ORONO, Maine — More than half of the employees at the NexxLinx call center will lose their jobs at the end of March, and the remaining 70 or so employees will move down the street to a smaller facility.
“It is true, 109 employees will lose their jobs, including my job,” Kristen Jones, a recruitment administrative assistant who answered the phone at the Godfrey Drive call center, said Friday.
Jones has been an employee for nearly three years, she said.
The decision to cut employees and downgrade was not made easily, Stephen Smith, chief corporate communications officer for Atlanta, Georgia-based NexxLinx, said Friday.
“It’s been something we’ve been struggling with,” Smith said. “And there are a couple of factors that are contributing to this.”
The biggest factors are that the company could not find enough employees and that the minimum wage in Maine has gone up. Maine voters in November 2016 approved the minimum wage increase, bumping the base pay from $7.50 to $9 per hour this month, and another $1 each January until it reaches $12 per hour in 2020.
“It’s getting tougher and tougher to fill that building,” Smith said. “The unemployment rate in the Bangor area has gone down and … that means available talent has gone down.”
The starting wage is already $10 per hour, plus incentives, Smith said, of NexxLinx employees.
“The first year of the minimum wage increase doesn’t really affect us,” he said. “It’s the ripple effects.
“We fear that is going to have a pretty long-term effect,” Smith said later of the three future annual increases.
Town officials learned of the changes within the Maine Technology Park in Orono this week, according to David Milan, economic development director.
“I have begun reaching out to other companies who could benefit from locating at the current NexxLinx building,” Milan said in an email.
Unlike Wayfair, the online home furnishings retailer in Bangor, which opened a call center in September to handle customer calls and pays employees an hourly wage, some NexxLinx employees compete for the work they do and are rewarded with incentives.
“We are a competitive outsourcer, so we’re competing with others,” Smith said.
The call center at 3 Godfrey Drive will close at the end of March, and NexxLinx will move down the street and reopen at 5 Godfrey Drive, which is much smaller, with the remaining employees. Some of those staffers will remain to work on client support operations.
“Economics runs business,” Smith said. “We just couldn’t carry the very large footprint.”
NexxLinx acquired former Microdyne Outsourcing in February 2011 and by 2013 employed about 350 people, 250 of whom worked for Time Warner Cable. Since then, the number of employees has decreased to the current 190.
“We are saddened that we must take this step that affects the community and a number of our employees,” Smith said in a press release. “We have been proud and appreciative of the contributions and performance of our Orono team. Unfortunately, a combination of local economic trends and other cost factors prevent us from remaining competitive in our current operating presence in Orono.”
Employees who have been given pink slips and decided to remain until March 31 will earn a bonus, Smith said.
“Those who stay with us for the next 60 days, through March 31, will get a 20 percent retention bonus … in their last check,” the spokesman said.