ROTHESAY – At the time it was a piece of bad news for the call centre industry in the Saint John region.
It was late April 2016, and Unilever had just announced it was closing down its centre on the east side, leaving 50 people without jobs.
A year and a half later, there is a happy ending of sorts with the announcement that New Jersey-based Stafford Communications plans to hire 31 people over the next three years – and more if all goes well – at its call centre in Rothesay.
The Stafford call centre is in Rothesay, not Saint John, but the closure of one (Unilever) did lead to the opening of another (Stafford).
Kevin Schofield, now Director of Canadian Operations for Stafford, was an employee of Unilever when it shut down. He already knew Stafford founder and CEO, C.J. Stafford. She knew about the Unilever closure because it was a client of hers.
The conversation about opening a Stafford call centre in the area began there.
“We knew each other through an industry association so we connected when the announcement was made and we were able to make this happen,” said Schofield at Thursday’s announcement at their Rothesay office.
Stafford handles customer service for about 30 clients in the food and beverage, healthcare, and beauty care industries. Centre employees take inbound calls from customers with questions and comments about the products sold by Stafford’s clients.
The 22-year-old company is headquartered in New Providence, New Jersey. It has 135 employees with call centres at home and in New Brunswick.
The decision to open the Rothesay centre was an easy one for Stafford.
“Unilever was a client of mine and they were closing a call centre here,” she said. “They had great people who worked in the consumer packaged goods industries. When they closed I took over the staff…There was a group of [people] that was trained already and talented. I couldn’t wait to get in here.”
The Stafford call centre has been open for about a year now, and already employees 14 people.
Stafford and Opportunities New Brunswick (ONB) hosted a press conference Thursday to announce payroll rebates for the companies pledge to create 31 jobs. Stafford is eligible for up to $140,000 in payroll rebates over the next three years.
ONB says it’s money well spent. Over three years, its estimates that the jobs will generate $252,000 in provincial income taxes and contribute $2.4-million to the province’s GDP.
This is the second company from the U.S. that has recently announced plans to set an office here. A few weeks ago, Georgia-based home-repairs company Pronto Pro announced it had established a team of five people in a Saint John office, with plans to hire 20 more in the next four years with the support of payroll rebates from ONB.
Rick Doucet, Aquaculture and Fisheries Minister, said the payroll rebates aren’t the main reasons companies like Stafford and come here. He said the incentives are richer in many other jurisdictions, so other factors come into play here.
“We’ve got so many things going for us, the proximity to the U.S. border, the internet services, and of course the skilled workforce,” said Doucet.
For her part, Stafford says the rebate wasn’t an important part of her decision to establish an office here.
“I just wanted to be here,” she said. “I think the workforce is great. [The rebate means] I can pour money into development. It’s really just icing on the cake.”