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Layoffs at Nielsen concern Oldsmar residents

OLDSMAR — Over the past seven years, the Nielsen Company has received at least $3.1-million in state and local subsidies to consolidate its Pinellas operations in a showcase facility in Oldsmar.

Much of that money was for creating high-wage local jobs.

Yet last year, Nielsen let go 240 Tampa-area employees, including many in Oldsmar. Now the company — formerly known as Nielsen Media Research — says the Oldsmar location is losing another 110 positions.

That work has been outsourced to India-based Tata Consultancy Services. Tata, one of the world's largest providers of consulting and outsourcing services, has brought in its own workers from India.

In the past few weeks, Tata workers have been spotted about town.

And Oldsmar, population 14,000, is buzzing.

"That is just unacceptable," Oldsmar City Council member Janice Miller said Monday when told of the job losses.

Miller said she plans to bring up the incentives Nielsen has received, like the qualified target industry tax refund at tonight's City Council meeting.

"The City Council is going to have to address this QTI (refund)," she said.

Officials agreed to provide Nielsen the incentives in an effort to keep the company from moving its operations out of Pinellas.

In 2003, the company consolidated many of its North Pinellas operations into a new, 475,000-square-foot, $80.2-million Global Technology and Information Center.

State officials say Nielsen moved 1,200 existing jobs to Oldsmar and agreed to maintain 1,883 jobs at its 39-acre campus. With an onsite work force of 1,600, Nielsen already is nearly 300 positions below the agreed-upon total. And more employees will be leaving eliminated positions this year.

The state evaluates qualified target industry contracts every year, said Page Bass, a spokeswoman for the Florida Governor's Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development. It would end the incentives if a company did not meet the requirements of its contract.

Some of the 110 employees in eliminated positions have already left Nielsen, and about 50 have taken jobs with Tata at Nielsen's Oldsmar location.

Around town, people talk about how Nielsen employees have been asked to train their replacements. But that's not how the company describes it.

Some Nielsen employees remain to "transfer technical knowledge" to consultants, said Nielsen spokesman Gary Holmes. Those employees will get extra severance pay, he said.

"The world is a lot more global … and every company needs to become more productive if they want to grow, attract new business and create jobs," said Holmes. "At Nielsen, this means that we have to be constantly re-engineering our business."

One recent morning, about a dozen Tata employees waited at Forest Lakes Road to catch a bus to work.

Three of the consultants — Vythe Chalaka, 27, Digamber Rawat, 24, and Amarnath Kollu, 25 — said they had been in Oldsmar for about two weeks.

"We've had previous experience in India, and we are trying to utilize it here at Nielsen," Rawat said.

Others arrived from India months ago, they said.

Chalaka estimated about 150 to 200 consultants from India with degrees in computer engineering or computer technology now work at Nielsen.

Holmes said the layoffs are a continuation of a restructuring that took place in 2007, but the effort to find a more efficient working structure will continue.

"This is an ongoing process, an ongoing forever process," he said.

Jerry Custin, president of the Upper Tampa Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce, has no concern about job loss at present. Nielsen, a trustee of the chamber, is active in Oldsmar, supports chamber events and opens its doors for meetings, he said.

"They've really been an excellent community partner, not only to the chamber, but I think to the city, too," he said.

Times staff writer Theresa Blackwell can be reached at tblackwell@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4170.

>>FAST FACTS

About the Nielsen Co.

The Nielsen Co. is a descendent of the A.C. Nielsen Co., founded in 1923. Headquartered in New York, and Haarlem, The Netherlands, it is a worldwide provider of marketing information, audience measurement and business media products and services. It operates in more than 100 countries. Its customers include the St. Petersburg Times, which buys online data from Nielsen.

Layoffs at Nielsen concern Oldsmar residents 04/14/08 [Last modified: Monday, April 21, 2008 4:08pm]

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