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updated 5/27/2004 2:45:18 PM ET 2004-05-27T18:45:18

The Dish Network, the nation's second largest satellite television system, will add more than 1,000 workers at its Tulsa call center, the company announced Thursday.

Dish Network, operated by Englewood, Colo.-based EchoStar Communications Corp., will increase its 200-person Tulsa payroll to 1,200 by year's end to meet the demands of its growing customer base, which swelled by 360,000 customers in the first quarter.

The company will add about 850 full-time and part-time customer service jobs and another 100 to 150 in human resources, information technology, training, and quality assurance, Dish Network said.

The customer service jobs start at $9.25 per hour, while the other jobs will pay more, said Steve Skalski, vice president of Dish Network services. The full-time jobs will include medical, dental and 401K benefits and opportunities for long-term careers, he said. Part-time jobs offer lesser benefits, company officials said.

"EchoStar tries to promote from within," Skalski said.

Dish Network's announcement comes three days after DirecTV, which operates the largest satellite TV network, announced it will double employment at its Tulsa call center to between 1,300 and 1,400 jobs by year's end.

DirecTV's customer service jobs will pay between $8 and $12 per hour and offer medical, dental and vision care benefits. Both Dish Network and El Segundo, Calif.-based DirecTV said they will offer college tuition reimbursement.

The rivals' announcements were a "coincidence," said Dish Network spokeswoman Kelley Baca. Dish Network has been planning the expansion for months, she said.

"This is yet another affirmative statement that Tulsa is a great place to do business and has the necessary human and technical resources to support two major satellite TV call centers," said Robert Mercer, spokesman with DirecTV.

The 1,000 new jobs, with an estimated average pay of $22,000 per year, will indirectly create an additional 842 jobs and, combined, the work will generate about $149 million each year in the Tulsa economy, according to Bob Ball, economist for the Tulsa Metro Chamber.

Dish Network, which serves about 9.7 million customers, said it will hold job fairs Tuesday and Wednesday at its south Tulsa facility, where it will lease additional space to accommodate the expansion of its 10th call center. The company employs about 15,000 workers nationally.

"It's a competitive hiring environment," Skalski said. "We feel we do really well in competitive hiring markets."

The additional jobs come after Tulsa lost about 25,000 jobs the last two years, as major employers including Williams Cos., MCI and American Airlines laid off workers. In one 12-month period, the city lost jobs faster than any city outside California's Silicon Valley.

The bad news continued in late April when Citgo Petroleum Corp. announced it would move its corporate headquarters, and 700 high-paying jobs, to Houston to be nearer its customers and assets.

Yet the Tulsa metropolitan area added 4,900 jobs in March and its unemployment rate dropped to 5.2 percent from 5.8 percent amid an improvement in the regional economy, according to recent state figures.

And existing companies like MCI, Boeing and State Farm Insurance Co. have recently announced job additions, and Vanguard Car Rental Inc., owner of the National and Alamo brands, is moving its headquarters to Tulsa.

"This is truly a recovery as far as I'm concerned," Tulsa Mayor Bill LaFortune declared. "And this is evidenced by this announcement today and the previous announcements."

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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