Good Calls: Franklinton Social Enterprise Fortuity Plans to Employ 500
If you take the 10 bus line west on Broad Street, not long after you pass COSI and drive into the rapidly changing neighborhood of Franklinton, you’ll pass the construction for the Gravity development project just before landing directly in front of Fortuity. Company co-founders Fred Brothers and Katie Robinson hope that when they officially open the call center this month, workers from communities such as Franklinton and Weinland Park will get familiar with this bus route, taking this precise commute to their new workplace.
Ensuring their building is easily accessible by public transit is just one example of the place-based supportive strategies Fortuity envisions. Once open, the new social enterprise also plans to partner with community leaders to provide on-site childcare, dining services, and healthcare in their building, which is officially located at 775 W. Broad St. in Columbus.
Fortuity is a project four and a half years in the making. From raising more than $12 million to completely renovate a commercial building, it has been a long, arduous journey to hiring the first employee. Brothers says when they were initially fundraising, they were constantly asked a version of the same few questions,“Why do you have to be so aggressive? Why do you have to buy a huge commercial building and a garage? Why do you have to raise 12-plus million dollars? Why can’t you just do what everyone else does?” Brothers says their answer was always simple—and the same: They’re “either going to make a macroeconomic impact or we’re not going to do this.” The current plan is to create about 500 good-paying jobs, complete with benefits and significant room for advancement.
With backgrounds in venture capital and data analysis, both Robinson and Brothers also have experience with call centers. One of the remarkable features of Fortuity’s business model is that someone with a high school diploma and no relevant experience can, after being hired, potentially rise through the ranks at the company to achieve true social mobility out of poverty. And this possibility is hardly insignificant in Columbus, where, according to the Kirwan Institute, 400,000 Columbus residents live in neighborhoods categorized as low opportunity.
When the charge to open the new Fortuity facility began in 2014, the company opted to locate in Franklinton because it was the poorest neighborhood in Central Ohio. And while Franklinton is now growing and undergoing quite a metamorphosis, it remains true that the neighborhood is among a number of places in Central Ohio where good jobs would make significant impact.
Besides its swing-for-the-fences funding approach, its go-big-or-go-home facility, and its aim to employ 500, Fortuity’s social enterprise model is a for-profit one. The corporation hopes that by providing workers with support services and a shorter commute, it will be able to limit one of the most pervasive problems of call centers: turnover.
“If we have a better retention rate than [our competitors],” Robinson says, “that translates to better quality for our clients, better customer service, and better pricing.” From leasing spaces in their new building to nonprofits and offering wages that are mindful of benefit cliffs, every part of Fortuity’s business plan screams deliberateness for both employees and clients. Brothers and Robinson plan to be profitable by, in their words, “doing darn good business”.
As you leave Fortuity’s new facility, breezing past conference rooms where cubicles just wait to be filled, a Maya Angelou quote greets you from a prominent company wall. The late, great poet reminds you: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Brothers and Robinson are banking on Angelou being right. When Fortuity opens its doors, the goal is ensuring the typical frustrations of dealing with difficult customer service are instead replaced by a social-enterprise alternative that leaves customers smiling when they hang up the phone.
For more information or to inquire about becoming a client, visit fortuity.com or stop at 775 W. Broad St., Columbus, OH, 43222.
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