Sears Canada is opening a new call centre in Saint John that will create an estimated 350 new jobs.
Opportunities New Brunswick is providing $4.3 million in payroll rebates and loans and the Department of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour is adding $894,000 in jobs funding, according to the announcement made Friday in Saint John.
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"New Brunswick is a world leader in the business services centre sector," Premier Brian Gallant said in a statement.
"It is already an important industry for our economy, employing thousands of New Brunswickers and we see it as an opportunity for growth and moving forward."
With the Saint John call centre, Sears Canada has now received more than $8.6 million this week in financial assistance from New Brunswick taxpayers. The company announced Wednesday that it was putting in a call centre in Edmundston as well, also with support from the province.
The jobs at the Saint John centre will include business services agents, team leaders, information technology support, human resources personnel, administrative support and managers.
Recruiting and training will begin in early March with the centre scheduled to begin taking calls this spring.
'It's just a big challenge all around'
Maureen Atkinson, a senior partner with J.C. Williams Group, global retail advisers based in Toronto, said Sears has seen its share of challenges.
Increasing competition from retail giants such as Walmart and changes in senior management at Sears have led to closures and staff cuts in the past few years, she said. Sears Canada lost $67.9 million in the 2015 fiscal year, and $338.8 million the previous year.
"A turnaround of a business at this size and scale would require a really significant investment," Atkinson said. "That's something that hasn't happened in the past, even in the years they made money."
She said the Sears parent company has also been a source of major problems.
"They are owned by an American company," she said. "The American company has major financial challenges. The Canadian company was actually doing not so badly, but then every time it made money, the American company took the money."
Training is a good sign
But it's not all doom and gloom.
The good news is Sears is still one of the largest retailers in Canada, with both online and catalogue business, resulting in these two up-and-coming call centres coming to New Brunswick.
"They're training people regardless of how long they're there for," she said. "As long as they're in business it's a good idea."
During Friday's news conference, Saint John Mayor Don Darling made a "buy local" connection to the local Sears now that the call centre is in the city.
Sears made a similar announcement this week in Edmundston, where its planned call centre will create 180 jobs.
The New Brunswick government will contribute about $3.5 million toward Edmundston's business services centre, including payroll rebates and loans.
Brand Stranzl, executive chairman for Sears Canada, said the company is making significant investments in technology and customer loyalty.
"The idea is that a local, Canadian-based loyalty team will be able to build strong emotional connections with our customers," said Stranzl.
Stranzl thanked the provincial government for help in establishing the two call centres and said he looked forward to "continuing our positive relationship together."