Holiday Inn soon will open a regional reservation and marketing center along the Wasatch Front employing about 300 telephone operators, Gov. Norm Bangerter announced Friday.

The news follows an announcement that J.C. Penney Co. will open a phone ordering center in Bountiful and that Sears will build a regional catalog phone order center in Provo.The three centers will hire a combined 2,000 local workers. The governor said he hopes northern Utah soon will gain a reputation as a major telemarketing center.

Bangerter, who flew to Memphis, Tenn., on Thursday aboard a plane owned by Utah industrialist Jon Huntsman, met with top executives of the hotel chain and helped finalize the deal.

He said nearly all of the jobs will be taken by local residents. "Fewer than 10 people will be brought in from out of state."

However, most of the jobs are expected to pay low wages, and many will be part-time.

Holiday Inn officials are expected to fly to Salt Lake City next week to make final arrangements for the center. Bangerter declined to comment on what incentives the state is offering the company, saying details have yet to be decided.

Bangerter made the trip along with state and local economic development officials. Huntsman, designated by the governor as the state's economic development ambassador, did not go, choosing instead to remain in Utah with his ailing father-in-law.

Aides to the governor were unusually quiet earlier this week about the purpose of the trip, saying they did not want to jeopardize the company's decision to move to Utah.

However, a spokeswoman for the hotel chain told the Deseret News last week that the company was considering locating the center in Utah.

Holiday Inn has regional reservation centers in Chicago and in Raleigh, N.C., employing 250 to 400 telephone operators, depending on the season, a company official said. The Utah center most likely will employ the same number, with more employees working during the summer.

Employees will receive calls from customers calling a toll-free 1-800 number to make reservations at Holiday Inns in the West. Officials said the center will not handle reservations for the other hotel divisions owned by Holiday Corp.

Company officials said they want to lease space in a building somewhere along the Wasatch Front, rather than constructing their own.

Kirk Green, the state's director of urban marketing, said Holiday Inn looked at 100 U.S. cities with populations greater than 400,000 before deciding on the Salt Lake area. The search began two years ago.

Bangerter said the company chose Utah because of the state's industrious and plentiful work force.

State officials said they hope Holiday Inn will decide to expand once it locates in Utah.

Holdings of the $2.4 billion Holiday Corp. include Holiday Inns, Embassy Suites, Hampton Inns, Homewood Suites and Harrah's Hotel and Casinos. Holiday Corp. owns and franchises its lodging businesses with some Holiday Inns and an Embassy Suites franchise in Utah.