HSN bringing 300 jobs to Sullivan Co.

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   BLOUNTVILLE -- A television network that pioneered television shopping and celebrity product lines plans to bring a "fulfillment center" and up to 400 jobs to the 1-million-square foot building formerly occupied by Tennessee Distribution (Fingerhut) in Piney Flats.
   Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable announced at a press conference held at the Tri-Cities Regional Airport on Wednesday that the Home Shopping Network, Inc. had acquired the building situated on a 100-acre site in the Tri-County Industrial Park.
   "I feel positive that HSN will be well-pleased with their decision to locate here," said Venable who credited the cooperative of the county, Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (TECD), and the county's economic development team.
   The company will initially employ 300 people when it opens in late summer/early fall and will upgrade existing conveyor/sorting systems and information technology equipment to help meet production needs. The new fulfillment center at Piney Flats will become one of the company's largest centers. The company is shutting down it's existing distribution center in Roanoke, Va., citing lack of space.
   The Fingerhut building has been vacant since 2002 when Fingerhut ceased operations. The company's closure left hundreds out of work.
   Other centers are located in Roanoke, Va., Waterloo, Iowa, and Fontana, Calif. International centers are located in Germany, Japan and China. HSN fulfillment centers typically ship 90,000-130,000 packages per day or over 50 million packages worldwide per year.
   "After months of searching the surrounding area, we are glad to have found an existing building large enough to meet our growing needs," said Joy Perkins, senior vice president of fulfillment for HSN in a news statement released by TECD. "We look forward to tapping into the area's talented labor pool when we begin our move in late summer/early fall."
   Venable said that HSN selected Sullivan County after an extensive investigation of the building and the area's available workforce. He also said the event marked a renewed optimism that the regional economy could be poised for a comeback after some depressing years.
   "I believe it is a leading edge of the wave coming in the national economy,"said Venable who was well aware of the rarity of HSN's news. "There are no very large companies with 300 to 400 jobs out there."
   While the good news came one county over, Elizabethton City Manager Charles Stahl was upbeat that the development could bode well for local economic development in his community.
   "I think there are big possibilities to that end," said Stahl who felt the city and county could see its own economic renewal if interest rates remained low and the national economy sustained growth.
   The city owns the Cherokee Industrial Park while the Watauga Industrial Park on U.S. Highway 91 is home to several small to mid-size industries in the county.
   Both local governments have been scrambling to find land of sizeable acreage to draw new industrial citizens.
   "While we don't have a tremendous amount of land available, we do have some available," said Stahl. He also noted that the county currently has two vacant buildings: The 200,00 square foot building formerly occupied by Frank Schaffer Publications as well as the building that housed Alcoa Extrusions company.
   HSN, an operating business of IAC/InterActiveCorp (Nasdaq: IACI), launched the television shopping concept in 1977. Home Shopping got its start in 1975 on a Clearwater, Fla. AM radio station when an advertiser could not pay a bill.
   The station owner accepts 112 electric can openers in lieu of cash, which he decides to auction over the air. A complete sellout gave birth to "Suncoast Bargaineers," a regularly scheduled radio show that became an on-air television shopping channel in Florida two years later.
   The company, headquartered in St. Petersburg, Fla., employs 4,500 worldwide. HSN generated worldwide-consolidated sales of close to $2 billion in 2002 and is the 4th largest cable television network in the United States.
   The company has since grown into a global multichannel retailer with worldwide sales of close to $2 billion in 2002 and a customer base of over 5 million people.The company's entertainment ties draws frequent appearances by entertainers-turned-entrepreneurs such as Suzanne Somers and Susan Lucci among others.
   Venable said HSN had indicated they would begin accepting applications as early as next week for a select number of human resources and facility support positions, with additional opportunities becoming available over the coming months. Individuals interested in employment with HSN can apply online at www.hsn.com.