Utahns' accent or lack of one - has made Bountiful a front-runner in a bid to get a catalog telemarketing center for a national department store chain.

State economic officials say J.C. Penney Co., believes, as other firms that have located telemarketing operations in Utah, that the state's residents have a nondescript accent that callers don't recognize. Telemarketing firms prefer a place like Bountiful to a location in the South or the New England states, where people have distinctive accents.Rick Mayfield, Davis County director of planning and economic development, said J.C. Penney officials are expected to decide within a month whether Bountiful will become the home of the center that is expected to provide 800 part-time jobs.

However, the competition for this J.C. Penney center is not likely to hinge only on speaking accents. Tucson, Ariz., is also in the bidding, and most people from Tucson don't have distinctive accents either. So, bottom-line costs will also figure into the decision.

Company representatives are studying how much it would cost to turn the second floor of the J.C. Penney store at 101 W. 16th North into the telemarketing center. If chosen, the Bountiful center would be the 16th center operated by the firm. J.C. Penney takes in about $6.4 million per day in catalog sales.

"They are looking at remodeling their building to meet building codes. An architect is studying the plans. It would not close the retail store, but is thought it (the center) would even strengthen the retail business," Mayfield said.

The center would employ about 800 people for 25 hours a week. Those hired at Penney's newest telemarking center in Scranton, Pa., received a starting wage of $5 per hour. Officials there projected wages to increase by more than $2.50 over a two-year period.

According to Mayfield about 95 percent of employees' work would involve answering incoming calls from J.C. Penney catalog stores and servicing other toll-free telephone number accounts. Very little, if any, of the work would involve phone soliciting, Mayfield said.

"This is one of the fastest-growing things in the country," he said.

Mayfield said his office has been working closely with Penney officials from Wisconsin, trying to sell them on the fact that there is an available labor force who could work part time and that that force is highly productive.

"Really the plus we tell any company that is interested in coming here is the superb labor force of dedicated qualified people who do a good job. After companies have located here they tell us that workers here are much more effective than in other areas of the country." Mayfield said. "In addition, the Bountiful area provides a ready market for young adults and mothers in the home who don't want to work full time. "