Bummer

220 people lose jobs at Dell Inc. call center


Roseburg - The layoffs are grim news for Douglas County, which has the state's 2nd-highest jobless rate

Friday, August 03, 2007

MIKE ROGOWAY

The Oregonian Staff

Computing giant Dell Inc. abruptly closed its Roseburg call center Thursday morning, putting more than 200 people out of work and dealing a major economic setback to tiny Douglas County, which already had the state's second-highest jobless rate.

Dell, which has operated in a converted Albertsons grocery for the past five years, laid off its entire Roseburg staff at 10 a.m. Thursday. In the face of declining profits and shrinking market share, the Texas-based company had said in May that it would cut its global work force by 10 percent over 12 months.

"The Roseburg closing is part of a series of changes we're making worldwide," said David Frink, a Dell spokesman.

Still, Thursday's job cuts took Douglas County by surprise.

"It's a pretty devastating hit for us," said Helga Conrad, director of the Umqua Economic Development Partnership, which serves Douglas County.

Dell employed 350 people in Roseburg as recently as the start of the year, but its work force had dwindled to about 220.

Responding to its sales problems, Dell has recently moved beyond its historic direct-sales model to offer its computers in Wal-Mart stores. That had reduced the need for phone operators to assist people buying computers on the phone or online, Conrad said.

Entry-level jobs in the Roseburg call center paid about $25,000 annually, she said, though sales people could make as much $50,000 a year through incentive bonuses. She said that Dell's medical and dental benefits were much prized by employees.

Douglas County's unemployment rate stood at 7.0 percent in June, well above the statewide jobless average of 5.1 percent.

Dell will give all laid-off employees 60 days of severance pay, Frink said, and some will earn prorated performance bonuses to help compensate for what they would have earned in incentives. Frink said Dell will donate computers from the call center to organizations in the Roseburg area.

Douglas County's economy went into steep decline along with the timber industry in the 1990s, so Dell's call center was especially welcome when it opened in 2002. Economic development officials helped lure the computer retailer with state tax breaks worth $250,000, and with $2 million worth of employee training funds largely from private organizations.

If there's a hopeful side to Thursday's news, it's that Dell leaves behind a 44,000-square-foot building customized for call-center operations and a trained work force. Conrad said another call center that operates in Roseburg plans to add about 100 jobs in the next year, and Frink said Dell would assist its former employees transferring to that company if positions are available.


--
Annette Sargent

"Women and cats will do as they please, and men and dogs should relax and get used to the idea." -Robert A. Heinlein