OLEAN — An Olean call center is closing its doors for good, and hundreds of area residents will soon be out of a job.
The Connection, a Minnesota-based customer service company, will shut down its Olean location May 17, company officials confirmed to the Times Herald. The closing brings an end to the call center’s nine years on Wayne Street after coming to the city on the heels of a $750,000 New York state grant to provide economic opportunity to low- and moderate-income workers.
Company officials have repeatedly declined to say the number of employees at the Olean call center, at times citing the use of seasonal employees as the reason why a total number cannot be calculated. Olean Mayor Bill Aiello said that based on his conversations with the company last fall, he believes the center employed about 200 people.
In a statement, Connection President and CEO Fred Weiner cited “long-term sustainability” and “company-wide business needs” as reasons for the closing.
“The decision to close a center is always difficult,” Weiner said. “Many of our employees have become like family. … We thank all of our employees for their service and continued support.”
Company officials said they will retain some Olean employees by offering them priority placement at the Jamestown call center or new work-from-home opportunities.
The closing had seemed like a possibility for several months, as the company had issued WARN — or Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act — notices to approximately 140 employees and laid off nearly two dozen employees since last fall.
The call center has been no stranger to layoffs and WARN notices since its opening, as the company issued notices to 164 of its 326 Olean employees in 2011 and a year later reduced its workforce to 150 employees. Another Connection center in Penn Yan shut down in early 2011, less than a year after it opened.
After the company in October warned approximately 140 Olean employees that they may lose their jobs come Jan. 8, only about 20 were terminated at the start of the new year. An additional 14 simply had their WARN notices extended until the end of the 2017 fiscal year’s first quarter.
Company officials cited the center securing two new clients and expanding services for another client for the relatively small number of layoffs. At that time, Cyndi McDurmott, The Connection’s vice president of human resources, said the company was committed to maintaining a facility in Olean and building up the center’s workforce.
Aiello had hoped The Connection would keep its Olean center, as he and the city had monitored the situation since the company issued notices last fall. He was aware a closing may be possible through conversations with the company the last few months.
Aiello said he and the city reached out to local politicians like State Sen. Catharine Young and Assemblyman Joseph Giglio, as well as New York state economic development leaders, in an effort to keep the center.
“They’ve been trying to work with (The Connection), but it appears they just don’t have the work to keep the center open up here in Olean,” he said. “We’re very disappointed that they’re not staying here. These are jobs for people around the Olean area. It’s just an unfortunate situation that we’re losing these jobs, and it is a concern to our community.”
The center opened in 2008 with the help of a $750,000 Community Development Block Grant that mandated 390 of the first 450 jobs at the center go to people with household incomes of less than roughly $30,000.
Aiello said that although the center did not provide “the best-paying” jobs, it did pay employees above minimum wage and provide benefits.
“It hurts. Let's face it, it hurts no matter what,” Aiello said. “It’s jobs that are lost. We need more jobs. We don’t need to continue to lose jobs.”
The closing is part of a concerning trend of shutdowns and downsizing in the city recently, Aiello said, citing Eaton-Cooper Power Systems downsizing and Olean Advanced Products preparing to close this year as parent company AVX Corp. consolidates services.
He said the city is always trying to encourage businesses to come to the area, but it’s limited in the invectives it can offer and must rely on state and Cattaraugus County economic development entities to provide funding and tax credits. The mayor hopes the recently completed North Union Street reconstruction will help attract businesses.
“Are we going to get the big factories in here with 200, 300, 400 employees? Yeah, we want to see that, but I don't think we're going to see that in today’s business culture,” Aiello said. “We need the businesses that have 50, 60 people to put people to work.”
(Contact reporter Tom Dinki at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter, @tomdinki)