Caleris CEO Sheldon Ohringer talks about his company&rsquo;s operations and growth in Jefferson with Democratic congressional candidate Christie Vilsack on Tuesday afternoon.<span style="font-size: xx-small;"><em>&nbsp; Daily Times Herald photo by Douglas Burns</em></span>
Caleris CEO Sheldon Ohringer talks about his company’s operations and growth in Jefferson with Democratic congressional candidate Christie Vilsack on Tuesday afternoon.  Daily Times Herald photo by Douglas Burns
Wednesday, October 17, 2012

JEFFERSON — Moments after entering Caleris, a high-tech support firm in Jefferson, Christie Vilsack attached her iPad to a portable keyboard and started asking questions, taking notes about what made the company successful, why the corporate leadership selected Greene and Carroll counties, what can be done to attract more business to the area.

“I’m running for one reason, and that’s to make sure that people can continue to live in small towns,” said Vilsack, the former Iowa first lady who is seeking the 4th District congressional seat of 39 counties, including Greene and Carroll.

Caleris started operations in Manning in 2004, expanded to Jefferson in 2005, Newton in 2007, and has plans to continue workforce growth in Iowa. The company has about 300 employees total, including 50 in Manning and 90 in Jefferson.

“Instead of taking the jobs to India, we keep them here,” Sheldon Ohringer, Caleris CEO, told Vilsack.

Caleris has contracts with a number of tech and Internet companies. With rural Iowa employees, the firm can reduce call times and provide much greater customer satisfaction than foreign companies in the field, Ohringer said.

“We put up the workforce of rural Iowa to anyone in the country,” Ohringer said.

He said the company expects to grow by about 150 to 200 people annually — a target expected specifically for 2013.

The starting annual salary for Caleris employees in Jefferson is $21,000 to $28,000. The education of employees ranges from high school graduate to those with post-secondary degrees.

“These are good jobs,” Ohringer said.

Rick Grewell, president of Caleris, said the company’s decision to use a former Fareway store in downtown Jefferson has had major spillover effect for the economy of  Greene County.

“Putting 90 jobs on the square supports every business in the area,” Grewell said.

Vilsack said she sees the job of a member of Congress as promoting business development, serving as a “public-relations director” for the district.

“The role of congressperson is to be talking to somebody like you,” she told Ohringer.

Ohringer and Grewell said they support Vilsack in her race with U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Kiron.

“We’re both on your side and poster childs for rural America, specifically rural Iowa,” Ohringer said.