The mayor of Fredericton is calling on the New Brunswick government to come up with a new job creation strategy in light of the pending closure of a large call centre in his city.
The Marriott Global Reservation Sales and Customer Care centre will be closing its doors in February, putting 265 people out of work.
"We're losing people and when we lose people, we lose hope … and it compounds, it gets worse," said Mayor Brad Woodside.
"And it's something that should be on the very top of Premier Alward's agenda. We’re bleeding."
The Marriott, one of Fredericton’s largest private sector employers, has not yet explained why it's shutting down its Fredericton operations.
But Woodside said he believes it’s because the company’s call volumes are down due to the growing use of the internet to make hotel bookings.
Marriott got $750K in provincial funding
NDP Leader Dominic Cardy says the call centre’s pending closure is "further proof that Liberal and Conservative corporate handouts do not work."
The Marriott has received more than $750,000 from the provincial government — $324,000 in a forgivable loan from the Liberals in 1998 and $427,500 from the Conservatives in 2000, said Cardy.
"Marriott is not going out of business, they are getting out of New Brunswick, and taking our tax dollars with them," he said in a statement.
And the Marriott is not alone, he said. Since 2000, New Brunswick governments have given at least $15 million to call centres that have closed.
"This money should have been spent on building the strength of our education system, to make sure our workers have the essential skills they need to compete in a global economy," Cardy said.
Time to 'wake up'
Woodside said a new provincial job strategy could serve as a "counterpunch" to global economic trends.
He admits he doesn’t have all the answers and stressed he’s not blaming the government for the call centre's closure.
But the need for action is urgent, said Woodside, pointing to a job fair hosted by Alberta oilsands companies that attracted about 2,000 people.
"It's time that somebody wake up — and soon … The province needs to wake up," he said.
"We're losing right now our most amazing and wonderful asset and that's our people. We can't afford to lose young people. There has to be opportunities. That means we have to look at a short- and long-term strategy to create employment opportunities, or our kids are going to leave us."
Big blow to city
Woodside said he found out about the Marriott call centre closure during a confidential conversation on Monday, just before the council meeting.
"It was just as if somebody punched me in the stomach and knocked the wind out of me," he said.
The mayor said he knows a lot of people who work in the industry.
"I don't look at them as numbers, I look at them as people — young people that are trying to get ahead, single…moms, people that are you know just trying to make ends meet."
The financial and social impact of the job losses will be "quite dramatic" for the city, said Woodside.
"It's not just  people. It's those that service that sector," he said.
"There's a lot of money generated outside the call centre where the employees are working. So there's a whole lot of things involved in this that make it a very sad day."