NEW PORT RICHEY — It was around noon when the managers emerged from a meeting and told everyone, without warning, that they were unemployed.
Eastern Research Services, a Springfield, Penn.-based phone survey company with a branch that employed 120 people in New Port Richey, abruptly shut down Thursday. Employees at all four of its branches, including three near El Paso, were laid off.
"The company has been losing money for some time and no longer has the ability to continue operating," a company hotline recording said, according to a Fox TV affiliate in El Paso.
The company was started in 1992 by Mike Marcus, Nicholas Mannino and Kean Spencer. It opened its Pasco location two years later. By 1996, with a staff of 160 in New Port Richey alone, it seemed to be doing well enough to be making 50 new hires. Mannino, the CEO, told the Times his company was considering opening a second branch in the Tampa Bay area. But that never happened.
Part-time employees worked 25 hours a week, in the Counsel Square Business Park on Little Road, researching for advertising agencies and companies such as McDonald's, AT&T and Exxon.
In 2002, Mannino told the Times the company had seen a slowdown in its business with clients in the packaged goods and technical industries but was bolstering income with political clients in the election year.
HCP, a private equity firm, bought Eastern in 2005 for an undisclosed amount. The company expanded Eastern's services to offer surveys in Spanish with over 800 bilingual employees.
But on Thursday, almost all were sent home. Calls to Eastern's headquarters and to HCP were not returned.
A phone was answered at the New Port Richey office.
Tiffany Kramer, a human resources supervisor at Eastern, said most of the staff was gone on Friday. Also laid off, she was there while things were "winding down." She said she couldn't speak to why the company ceased operations unexpectedly.
"That's life," she said.
Later calls to the company were met with busy signal tones.