Argo sold; Auburn Mayor Jason Levesque plans new venture

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Argo Marketing moved in December 2013 into the former McCrory’s department store on Lisbon Street in Lewiston after a major renovation. Founder Jason Levesque announced Tuesday that he has sold the company and plans other ventures in Lewiston-Auburn. (Sun Journal file photo)

LEWISTON — Fifteen years after starting the company from a laptop on his couch, Auburn Mayor Jason Levesque announced Tuesday that he has sold Argo Contact Centers to Georgia-based ITC Capital Partners for an undisclosed amount.

Levesque said Argo’s 300 jobs, including about 200 in Lewiston, will stay here and that selling was best for the company’s future.

“I realized back in early 2017 that in order for the company to continue to grow, we needed two things: capital and additional brainpower,” Levesque said. “I had a lot of inquiries, but (ITC Capital) came to the table with the best plan, the most capital and the most knowledge.”

Argo Marketing founder and CEO Jason Levesque addresses the crowd assembled in front of his corporate headquarters in Lewiston in 2015. (Sun Journal file photo)

Since 2013, Argo, a mostly inbound call center, has been headquartered at 64 Lisbon St. in the former McCrory’s department store, which underwent an extensive, multimillion-dollar renovation.

The sale on Argo’s assets closed Oct. 1. Levesque said he stayed through the transition, leaving May 2. He retained the Lisbon Street property, entering into a long-term lease to ITC Capital. A second location, in Pittsfield, had been leased by Argo.

All employees stayed on.

“At this point in my life, my biggest concern, frankly, was the future potential for the employees that helped me grow Argo to what it was,” Levesque said. “It was a good financial deal for me, it provided a great opportunity for them and I think it’s going to provide great opportunity for the city of Lewiston and the city of Pittsfield, too.”

Levesque said the pending sale last fall left him more time to run for mayor of Auburn. It also left him more time to devote to the position after winning the election.

“It’s on to the next steps for me,” he said.

ITC Capital Partners says on its website that it chooses partnerships with a minimum, long-term goal of at least 20 percent returns to its shareholders each year. ITC is involved in a diverse mix of industries.

Seven businesses are highlighted on its website, including Argo. Others include internet service providers, a company that tracks nesting birds and a company with a “comprehensive counter-terrorism canine program.”

The corporate phone number listed on ITC Capital’s website was not in service Monday. A call left to the Lewiston office had not been returned by noon.

Levesque said ITC Capital had invested in the call center industry before.

“They own about a dozen businesses around the world,” he said.

In 2003, Levesque said, he founded Argo with “$400, a laptop, a couch and a very tiny house in Auburn,” and it got off to a rough start.

In the first nine months, his electricity and water were shut off in the same week. He faced liens and nearly lost his house to foreclosure.

“It was miserable,” he said. “But I grew from there, hired a person, got a client that paid me, then another and another.

“We consulted specifically on call centers: Large marketers would hire myself and then my staff to find the right call centers and then manage them — third-party call centers around the world.”

Seeing a need for U.S.-based customer service, Levesque by 2010 had stopped consulting and Argo had opened a 50-seat, inbound call center.

“We hit the Inc. (magazine) list of fastest-growing companies in the country three years in a row,” Levesque said.

“In 2015, we were the fastest-growing company in the state of Maine. We had a lot of really good high points in the run, and not without our low points, which we’ve had, just like any other business. I’m really looking forward to watching and helping any way I can the next chapter in Argo’s story path.”

In 2015, the company was involved in lawsuits over unpaid wages and back rent and sued iYogi for not paying Argo for work.

Levesque said he now plans to take time off to be with his wife and three children, who have sacrificed much given his travel schedule and other commitments connected to Argo.

“When my youngest daughter was born, three days after she was born, I was on a road trip for a week,” he said. “That’s really, really trying, and I want to focus and give the time back to my family. They deserve it. I want to enjoy what I can.”

There is also the matter of starting a new business, likely by the end of the year and in a different field.

“I am an entrepreneur, I’ll never forget that,” Levesque said. “I already have a couple ideas. Lewiston-Auburn’s always dear to my heart. Whatever I do, it’s going to be here.”

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