Saint John has been hit with a double-whammy on the jobs front this week — with the scuppering of both Energy East and a Sears call centre with a workforce that was expected to grow to 350.
Paul Fudge, chief financial officer and vice-president of deal structuring with Opportunities New Brunswick, said the deal with Sears "looked like a good plan at the time" — and the news wasn't a total shock.
"There had been some signs in the market since they went into restructuring earlier this summer, but the announcement was to everyone at the same time for legal reasons."
No taxpayer money has been spent yet on the Sears call centres in Saint John and Edmundston.
"In this deal, we did a lot of structuring upfront to make sure that taxpayer money was protected," Fudge said.
Push on to close more deals
The next move for the Crown corporation, according to Fudge, is to seal more call centre deals.
With more than 18,000 employed provincewide in call centres, the industry adds approximately $1 billion to New Brunswick's GDP, he said.
"It's a very significant part of the New Brunswick economy," he said.
In Saint John, the best-case scenario would for a "seamless transition" for the employees affected by the failure of the call centre — and ONB is on the case, according to Fudge.
'For us, every job for us is important.' - Paul Fudge, chief financial officer with Opportunities New Brunswick
"We've re-engaged our investment attraction team to try and push some deals we've been working on to close faster and relocate into the two centres where Sears is closing," Fudge said.
More than 200 people work at the Sears call centre in Saint John and more than 160 work at the centre in Edmundston.
Fudge didn't provide names of potential employers to take the place of the call centres but said ONB has been in discussions with "a number of brand name companies."
Some are in the 50 to 100-job range, he said, while others could employ 250 or more workers.
"We're going to see if we can get them to sign on the dotted line to come here sooner," he said.
"For us, every job for us is important — it doesn't matter if it's a small business with five or 10 jobs, or a large company with 1,000."