New Brunswick

Taxpayer money for Sears a risk but worth it, Opportunities NB says

The head of Opportunities New Brunswick says the $2.2 million it is providing to Sears Canada for a call centre in Edmundston is a good use of taxpayer dollars.

Opportunities CEO says $2.2M to help retailer with Edmundston call centre is a good investment

Stephen Lund, CEO of Opportunities New Brunswick, speaks about the benefits a Sears call centre will bring to the province. (CBC News)

Opportunities New Brunswick says the $2.2 million it is providing to Sears Canada for a call centre in Edmundston is a good use of taxpayer dollars.

"Companies don't wake up in the morning — they're in downtown New York — and say, 'Hey, let's go to New Brunswick,'" said Stephen Lund, CEO of Opportunities New Brunswick. "We call on them."

Despite closures of Sears stores over the past few years, the call centre is set to open in Edmundston this spring, creating an estimated 180 jobs with it.

The provincial government is putting a total of $3.5 million into the Sears call centre, with most of that coming from Opportunities New Brunswick. 

The agency that helps businesses with their plans for growth in New Brunswick is providing $2.2 million through a combination of payroll rebates and loans. Another $458,000 is coming from the Department of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour through the One Job Pledge program, and the Regional Development Corp. will provide $850,000.

Lund said Sears is a well-known brand, and it's important to attract bigger companies to the province.

"We know the situation," Lund said. "This is a $3 billion company with over 60 years of existence."

"We've read all the articles, we've worked with the company, we've worked with their finance people.

An investment for New Brunswick

Lund said Opportunities New Brunswick has worked with Sears over the past few months, analysing the risk of bringing in the new call centre.

 'You cannot be successful without new money and new investment into the province.'- said Stephen Lund

"Is it risky? Yes it is," he said. "Is the risk worth it? We believe it is."

Lund said discussions of a new Sears call centre came up a few years ago.

"They were looking at how do they change the way they do customer service," said Lund. "They're looking for solutions to issues."

Lund said ONB provides incentives to companies to come to New Brunswick by rebating part of the wages they pay.

Every jurisdiction offers incentives but New Brunswick falls in last place in terms of the amount of incentives for companies, he said. 
A Sears call centre is expected to open in Edmundston this spring. (Canadian Press file photo)

"It's only after the results are audited and we generate $2.40 for every dollar we provide for a company," said Lund during an interview with Information Morning Fredericton.

"You cannot be successful without new money and new investment into the province."

The government estimates the 180 new jobs will increase the provincial GDP by $8.9 million annually.

"The dialogue should really be about not what you are providing to a company but what is the return on investment for the province."

'A competitive world'

When asked if a new Sears call centre is the best his agency could do in terms of bringing new business to the province, Lund said the company would generate a positive return on investment for New Brunswickers and opportunities for young people.

"If we get away from attracting international business and having anchor companies here, we're not going to be able to grow the economy the way we want, provide jobs for young people, provide revenue for the  province to pay for health care and education," he said.