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Electronics trade-in company to open Ky. center

Bruce Schreiner, Associated Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- A fast-growing company that snatches up used laptops, tablets and smartphones and finds new customers for them announced Monday that it will open a processing center and eventually employ more than 400 people in Louisville.

Gazelle Inc. plans to invest $22.3 million in its Louisville operations in coming years. Since launching in 2008, the Boston-based company has paid out more than $100 million to customers who sent in electronics they no longer wanted. The company, which operates the trade-in website Gazelle.com, has processed nearly 1.5 million devices.

"We're just getting started," said Israel Ganot, co-founder and CEO of Gazelle, who predicted that the sector is poised for continued strong growth.

Gazelle plans to open a 37,500-square-foot processing center in Louisville's Jefferson Riverport area. It will become the largest operation for a company that has had triple-digit yearly revenue growth and expects to generate about $100 million in revenue this year.

"Gazelle saw a consumer need and has worked to fill that void, and that's what a great business is all about," said Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, who led state and local officials in welcoming the new arrival at a ceremony at Gazelle's operations.

Ganot said the proximity to the UPS air hub in Louisville played a key role in the company selecting the city.

State officials have given preliminary approval for tax incentives up to $3 million for Gazelle. The performance-based incentives will allow Gazelle to keep a portion of its investment through corporate income tax credits and wage assessments for meeting job and investment targets.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer praised Gazelle for finding new homes for electronic devices that might otherwise end up in landfills.

The company said it expects to fill the projected 438 jobs at the processing center within the next decade. It hopes to reach 100 employees in Louisville in the next year. The average wage will be about $10.75 per hour, plus benefits. Employees will inspect devices, refurbish and wipe data from them and ship them to customers around the world.

"We look forward to a long future here in the Bluegrass state," Ganot said.

The jobs announcement comes as Kentucky's unemployment rate has stubbornly hovered around 8 percent.

"What our families need most in these difficult economic times can be summed up in one word — jobs," Beshear said at the Louisville event.

The state's jobless rate dropped slightly to 7.9 percent in April, down from 8 percent in March. The preliminary April rate was an improvement from the 8.2 percent statewide rate in April 2012. Kentucky's jobless rate remained above the national rate, which was at 7.5 percent this past April.

The latest statewide jobless numbers are due out this week.

From January to April this year, nonfarm employment in Kentucky increased by 16,200, or 0.9 percent, compared with the same period a year ago, said Manoj Shanker, an economist with the Office of Employment and Training. During the same period of 2012, employment grew by 34,000 jobs, or 1.9 percent, over the year-ago period in 2011.

"Clearly, we are adding jobs, but the pace has slackened considerably," Shanker said Monday. "The primary reason is that export-driven demand has fallen as countries in Europe and Asia struggle with their own economies."

Some of the Appalachian coalfield counties continued to log the highest jobless rates in Kentucky in April, according to state figures. A slumping coal industry is blamed.

Beshear said Monday that the state hasn't fully recovered from the recession but is poised for more job growth.

"Companies are seeing the improvement in the economy here in Kentucky; they are now ready to make these decisions to invest," he said. "We're going to continue making these announcements."

The governor credited changes to the state's economic incentives programs for helping spur job creation. Since those programs were revamped in 2009, there have been 560 projects with companies statewide that will eventually net the state about $6.2 billion in new investments and almost 44,000 jobs, Beshear said.