Thing 5 expands in U.S. after axing Bathurst call centre

A call centre company that has closed several offices in New Brunswick in recent years is expanding its operations in the United States.

Thing 5, which merged with Virtual-Agent Services last year, is adding about 500 jobs at its head office in Massachusetts.

The new jobs in the United States come as the company has downsized its New Brunswick operations from 18 call centres to 10.

Bathurst was the company’s latest call centre to be closed after it lost a contract. But the company has already pulled the plug on operations in Hillsborough, St Louis de Kent, Neguac, Rogersville and Perth-Andover.

The company also closed a centre in Amherst, N.S.

Bill Faxon, a Thing 5 spokesman, said the company has cut jobs in Canada because it has lost contracts.

But, he adds when they started expanding into New Brunswick in 1999 the Canadian dollar was worth about 65 cents U.S.

Now, the Canadian dollar is trading on par with the U.S. dollar, so it is more expensive to keep call centres open in New Brunswick.

Mike Bacon, the executive director with Contact NB, a call centre lobby group, said the higher Canadian dollar is not the only factor that is making it difficult for Canadian call centres to remain competitive.

He said new “buy American” rules are also making it harder for U.S. companies to keep offices open in Canada.

“In some cases it's actually legislated by the federal or state governments and some companies also have a policy that the contact centre must be located in the U.S. when they put out bids,” Bacon said.

The impact of these new policies, some of which were created in the United States to help communities cope with the recession, is starting to be felt in Canadian cities.

Loss of jobs is difficult

Bathurst Mayor Stephen Brunet said he understands that businesses will choose to set up in areas where they can be the most profitable.

“That's a fact of life with these centres, I guess, they'll go where their labour is and they'll go where the best cost is,” he said.

But Brunet said the loss of jobs in Bathurst is difficult.

The provincial government has attempted to make it more cost effective to set up businesses in New Brunswick.

When Thing 5 announced it would create 51 jobs in Bathurst in February, the provincial government anted up $77,000 from the Northern New Brunswick Economic Development and Innovation Fund and another $275,000 in payroll rebates from Invest NB.

Once the company announced it was ceasing operations in Bathurst, the provincial government confirmed the company will repay the $77,000 in provincial financing. The $275,000 in payroll rebates was never paid out because the jobs were not maintained.