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Software company eyes Wadena for video call center

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A Minneapolis-based software company that is developing ways for seniors to virtually connect with their communities has selected Wadena as the location of its first video call center.

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If the company secures financing, River Systems LLC is expected to bring several jobs to the city within a few months, said Dean Uselman, director of the Wadena Development Authority. Longer-term, it's hoped the call center will employ between 70 to 100 people, he said. "The growth of this should be very rapid."

At the June city council meeting, River Systems President Joel Ackerman explained the company's vision to provide a single integrated digital interface for seniors - whether it be to live-stream church services, chat with loved ones or connect with service providers, retailers and local governments - from the comfort of their homes. For now, the platform is known as HomeStream Community, but the company is rebranding.

"What we're doing is very innovative. It's very different. It's very unique," said Ackerman, who has more than 30 years of experience in business, information technology and health care, including time as an executive at UnitedHealth Group.

River Systems, he said, is "trying to bring together technologies and services to support" the rapidly aging population - " the senior tsunami" - and make it "easy enough to use even for people who don't know how to use computers."

When Ackerman addressed the council, the company had yet to choose Wadena over the other finalists for the call center, Bemidji and Aberdeen, S.D.

He pointed to Tri-County Health Care's early leadership in the field of telemedicine as a main reason Wadena was on his radar.

In a Monday interview, Ackerman said it would be premature for him to provide additional details given the rebranding and financing efforts.

So far, River Systems has piloted the platform in several communities, including Red Wing. Job growth at the Wadena call center, which would provide face-to-face customer support, would depend on how much - and fast - the company expands.

"This has the potential to be nationwide and beyond," Uselman said.

He told the council that the positions River Systems would create are "not just good paying, but actually high paying jobs with benefits. (Ackerman) wants to make this the kind of place where people want to get a job and once they get a job they don't want to give it up. That's the kind of jobs we really want to see here."

Wadena should embrace both sides of the River Systems business, by becoming home to the call center while simultaneously adopting the platform within the community, Uselman said.

"There's a lot of opportunity here," he said, "and my intent is to bring enough organizations into this."

While council members were generally receptive to Ackerman's presentation, Mayor Wayne Wolden said he's concerned the technology, which requires a high-speed Internet connection, might cost too much for fixed-income seniors.

Ackerman said River Systems is doing everything it can to make the service "as affordable as possible for every consumer."

"The focus is not primarily on consumer revenue ..." he said. "In time, the bulk of our revenue will come from the business-to-business side."

Councilman Toby Pierce said he's impressed with the company's potential.

"I think this is a great opportunity for Wadena to be on the forefront of something," he said. "I would sure like to see us really work at this."

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