REDMOND, Ore. -

The city of Redmond, dealt a major economic blow by T-Mobile's imminent call center departure, assured Wednesday that the 77,000-square-foot facility won't stand vacant for even a day.

Portland-based Consumer Cellular, touting itself as "the No. 1-rated cell phone service provider in the U.S." and the exclusive wireless provider for AARP members, announced Wednesday that it has signed a letter of intent with T-Mobile USA to sub-lease the carrier?s facility in Redmond. It also said it hopes to eventually (within three years) hire more than 650 employees -- nearly double T-Mobile's Redmond workforce when it announced its closure plans.

Consumer Cellular plans to begin operating the 77,000 square-foot call center facility on Aug. 1, according to a news release issued by the company and an announcement made at the Redmond Chamber of Commerce, attended by numerous state, local and business officials.

Consumer Cellular said it will work directly with T-Mobile and a team of economic development organizations to ensure the transition is seamless, including the Governor?s Office, Business Oregon, Economic Development for Central Oregon (EDCO) and Redmond Economic Development, Inc. (REDI).

?We are very pleased to join as a partner with Consumer Cellular and help return hundreds of jobs to Deschutes County,? said Governor John Kitzhaber. ?The swift reopening of this facility will mean less disruption and hardship for Central Oregon and the workers who faced unemployment.?

?Consumer Cellular is thrilled to work with T-Mobile and this qualified team of economic development organizations to help save jobs in our state while increasing our operations to meet the needs of our rapidly expanding customer base,? said CEO John Marick. ?Having a move-in ready facility with a high-quality existing workforce made perfect sense for us, and we?re looking forward to expanding in the state of Oregon and becoming a part of the Redmond community.?

Once completed, the agreement with T-Mobile USA "may preserve many of the jobs assumed lost when the Bellevue, Wash.-based carrier announced in March it would consolidate much of its operations, including a closure of its Central Oregon call center," affecting some 350 workers, the announcement stated.

T-Mobile employees have the option to transfer to the company?s Salem call center, as well as 16 other T-Mobile call centers throughout the country. With this agreement, Consumer Cellular will offer employees yet another option, keeping them in Redmond.

?Today?s announcement restores confidence to Redmond and those who likely would have been unemployed,? said REDI Manager Jon Stark. ?We conducted national outreach, and interest in both the T-Mobile facility and employee base was quite high. We?re gratified Consumer Cellular chose to invest here and know, as a top-quality employer, they?ll be an excellent fit for the Redmond business community.?

While the news release headline touted Consumer Cellular's plans "to hire more than 650" workers in Redmond, that won't be happening overnight.

"We want to make sure we do this right," CEO John Marick told NewsChannel 21. "We don't want to try to bring on too many people at once and want to make sure to integrate them properly, that they are ingrained in the culture and the system."

The plan is to have 50 to 75 workers on hand when the facility opens Aug. 1, and "over about the first 15 to 18 months or so, we expect that to grow to 250 to 300," Marick said. "In three to 3 1/2 years is when we believe we'll hit those 650 numbers," close to the 700 T-Mobile employed in Redmond at its peak.

"We wouldn't take that facility if weren't planning on filling it up," said Marick, "Over time, we will grow through that."

The 16-year-old Tigard firm specializes in low-cost, no-contract cell phones for seniors, marketed through an AARP partnership and distributed through Sears. It currently has two call centers, in the Portland area and Phoenix, and was days away from leasing another call center site in Phoenix when the Redmond opportunity came along.

"We were literally days away from signing a lease for another call center" in Phoenix, Marick said at the news conference. "We need to open it. When we saw that (Redmond T-Mobile) opportunity, we thought we would postpone that in order to pursue looking at this."

Consumer Cellular customers actually are on AT&T's network -- the Portland-area firm is a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) -- but it's "transparent, so the customers don't know," Marick said.

While the T-Mobile workers losing their old jobs don't have guaranteed new ones, Marick said the firm knows it has a well-qualified pool of potential hires to choose from.

While cell center jobs in Oregon average about $28,000 a year, any such jobs are crucial to get or keep in a still-choppy economy.

The area has been dealing with one of the highest unemployment rates in the state, so the collaborative effort to save jobs was touted ass a huge boost to the community.

"We've been very concerned about losing a large number of jobs and a major employer here in Redmond," said Redmond Mayor George Endicott.

A big selling point was having an established and skilled workforce already in Redmond.

Economic leaders say this is exactly what they area need to give a boost to the region.

"We have the workforce and the ability to do that," said Stark, "I think what you are seeing here in Central Oregon is some momentum building because Central Oregon is definitely open for business, as is Redmond."

The facility will remain a call center, with the bulk of positions being customer service representatives with supervisor, management and HR teams to support them.

?We are very pleased to have a signed Letter of Intent with Consumer Cellular regarding the sub-lease of our call center facility in Redmond,? said Brian Brueckman, senior vice president, direct to customer, T-Mobile USA. ?An important part of our sub-lease search criteria was to find a company that could not only assume the lease, but also provide additional opportunities to our employees who may not want to relocate to one of our 17 U.S. call centers where we are hiring.?