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From time to time, local officials announce a significant corporate relocation or expansion that translates into an infusion of well-paying jobs hereabouts. And if all goes as hoped, the next such announcement could be a real attention-getter.

Catbird seat: Realserv CEO Shannon Van Etten says Asheville is well-positioned to land a major real-estate agent service center — and hundreds of new jobs. Photo By Jonathan Welch

The Asheville area is in the running for a massive customer-support center for real-estate agents, vying against potential sites in Florida and Colorado. The stakes? At least 630 new jobs over the next few years, with annual salaries of $35,000 and up. And those are conservative numbers. Among those who stand to benefit the most are local real-estate agents and others in the industry who might need work amid the current downturn, not to mention those with administrative, call center, IT and other applicable skills.

If the real-estate mantra “location, location, location” holds true, then the Asheville area ought to be in good shape to land the center by dint of its natural and cultural amenities. Better yet, the company that’s planning the center, Realserv LLC, is already headquartered in downtown Asheville, potentially giving the city a leg up on the competition.

But it’s too soon to uncork the champagne, cautions Realserv CEO Shannon Van Etten, though he says he’s doing everything he can to see that Asheville lands the facility. Ray Denny, vice president of economic development for the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce, says he can’t recall a job announcement of that magnitude in his three years on the job, nor when he worked for the state Department of Commerce here in the 1990s. “It would be a big announcement,” says Denny. “We’re very, very hopeful.”

“Our overall intention is to keep this as close to headquarters in Asheville as possible,” notes Van Etten. “I’m a resident of Buncombe County, and I want to see this facility here in our backyard; that’s been my position all along. But my board comes from various parts of the country, and they don’t necessarily have an attachment to Asheville like I do.

The company’s board expects to reach consensus on a location for its support center by the beginning of August, if not sooner, Van Etten reports. A key consideration will be which locale ponies up the best incentives. At press time, Van Etten told Xpress that the company was in negotiations with the state Department of Commerce, but added that divulging any details of an incentives package from the state before it was made public would be “deadly.”

“I think it makes sense [to locate it here] because Asheville is a wonderful place to recruit people to, for any type of job,” Van Etten adds. “Most folks are aware of Asheville, and the mountains and the streams and the trees and all the things that are tangential to the downtown business district. It’s an easy place to recruit people to.” He also points to the area’s existing talent base. In fact, says Van Etten, the company decided to locate its headquarters here because of Asheville’s “emergence as a hub of technological industrialism.”

Realserv was launched in 2005 by Transaction First and the N.C. Management Corp., a wholly-owned subsidiary of the N.C. Association of Realtors. Realserv provides integrated document- and transaction-management solutions to more than 150,000 real-estate agents across 17 states who subscribe to Realfast (RF2Go), the association’s proprietary, Web-based software system for real-estate forms. The company also serves the more than 70,000 members of the North Carolina and Pennsylvania associations, not to mention the 680,000 Multiple Listing Service customers served by MarketLinx. The latter firm is a subsidiary of the Santa Ana, Calif.-based First American Corp., the nation’s largest business and real-estate service provider.

The proposed center would provide service to real-estate agents in the field as they signed on to Realserv’s system to access the multitude of business and legal forms needed to process and close real-estate transactions, Van Etten explains.

Although the real-estate downturn is not as bad in Asheville as other places—including Colorado and, especially, Florida—local interest in the potential jobs has been growing since the news about the new center broke in late June. “We’ve received probably dozens upon dozens of resumés and information requests so far,” says Van Etten.

To find out more about the company, check out www.realserv.com. For job information, e-mail info@realserv.com.

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