The closing of the Convergys (News - Alert) call center at the Bon Carré Business Center in May led to some 300 lay-offs and ended a 12-year journey of fluctuating employment that could never quite reach the 1,000 jobs the center predicted when first announced in 1999, according to state records.
Over the last 10 years, Cincinnati-based Convergys received nearly $7.3 million in economic development incentives through the state’s Quality Jobs program, and during that time, its annual payroll varied from $8 million to $20.7 million – totaling to about $145 million over all 10 years.
Managed by the Louisiana Department of Economic Development, the program is “pay-as-you-go,” in which companies have to meet contracted performance goals, which for the most part are fairly attainable – about five new jobs per year. For Convergys, this meant generating $1 million in payroll per year, explained secretary of Louisiana Economic Development Stephen Moret.
For example, the company employed a little over 450 workers in Baton Rouge back in 2000 – earning an average pay of $8.50 per hour – with a total payroll of $8 million. The state then paid the company over $400,000 as part of the Quality Jobs program, which permitted salary rebates or investment tax credits if Convergys met specific job-creation goals at the time, according to statistics provided by LED. Changing the Quality Jobs program 10 years ago, however, would have made many call centers – including Convergys – ineligible, due to the minimum required salary of $14.50 an hour.
“If Convergys came to Louisiana today and offered to create a call center that would create 1,000 jobs with similar compensation to what they had for the last 10 years, they would not be eligible for the Quality Jobs program,” Moret added.
A noticeable decrease in employment followed; in March 2010, the company announced its plan to hire 200 individuals, which would bring the call center’s head count to 600, which was significantly less than the 735 employees they consisted of the year before in 2009.
The Quality Jobs contract came to an end, but this was not a determining factor when the company decided to close its Baton Rouge location, said Amy Williams, senior manager for public relations at Convergys.
Over the last ten years of the call center participating in the state’s Quality Jobs program, its employment levels dramatically dropped and raised, and despite some peaks, such as in 2007 when it employed 896 workers who were paid an average of $11 an hour with a payroll of $20.7 million, it obviously did not last long. The closure of Convergys’ Baton Rouge center stands as a trend in a loss of call center jobs across the state, Scott stated, as well as a challenge faced in the state’s road to economic recovery.
Former workers still have resources available through the Louisiana Workforce Commission’s Rapid Response program, including job counseling, job search workshops, résumé preparation assistance, interviewing techniques and more.
Edited by Rachel Ramsey