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Telecommuting center opens in W.Va.

April 01, 1997

By CLYDE FORD

Staff Writer, Charles Town

RANSON, W.Va. - Cissey Ferguson wishes that telecommuting had been around when she was raising her son.

For years, Ferguson spent about five hours a day on the road commuting between her Jefferson County, W.Va., home and her job with the U.S. Customs Service in Washington, D.C.

Now she has a cubicle at the newly opened Jefferson County TeleCenter in Ranson, which is a five-minute drive from her house.

On Monday, she showed off her new work area to U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd, U.S. Rep. Bob Wise and other officials who attended ribbon-cutting ceremony at the center.

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Technology changes everything, Byrd told the crowd of about 50, including Jefferson County Commissioners, police officers, business officials from Charleston, W.Va., and others.

In a wide-ranging speech, he quoted Napoleon, the Book of Isaiah, Jules Verne and spoke of how technology will change the way people work in the future.

Workers such as Ferguson will be able to have the office come to them instead of them having to go to the office, said Byrd, D-W.Va.

The potential benefits are tremendous, from allowing parents to spend more time with their children, to reviving Ranson's downtown, to easing traffic congestion on the highways to Washington, Byrd said.

The center also will boost the local economy and help decrease air pollution, Byrd said. "Workers get the best of both worlds," Byrd said. "Telecommuters can work with all the efficiency that a location in a modern, metropolitan business office affords, while still enjoying the many advantages of a more rural setting."

Ferguson said that even though her son is grown, it's nice to work at her job as a systems analyst at a location that's close to home. These days, she has to travel to Washington only on Wednesdays.

"I actually know people in Jefferson County now," she said. "I can have a normal life."

Wise, D-W.Va., said about 5,000 people leave Jefferson and Berkeley counties each day to commute to work.

Wise said the new center is the first of its kind in West Virginia.

Hagerstown and Frederick, Md., have similar telecommuting centers.

The Jefferson County TeleCenter will accommodate about 30 to 40 people working there at different times, said Jefferson County TeleCenter Director Peter G. Smith.

The center has 15 cubicles, each with a computer, modem, phones and desk. Most telecommuters probably will work one or two days a week at the center and the rest of the work week at their offices down the road, he said.

The employers, mostly federal agencies, pay a fee to the General Services Administration, which passes the rent on to the center, he said.

The center also can be used at night by workers and by students taking computer classes, he said.

The center is located in a wing of an old, 1920s-era garment factory that has been extensively renovated.

About $250,000 was provided by the federal government through an appropriations bill sponsored by Byrd.

"This represents a new way of working for a lot of our residents," said Jane K. Peters, executive director of the Jefferson County Development Authority.

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