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Unable to find workers, Tampa's Sykes will close North Dakota call center

It sounds at first like your typical tale of corporate cutbacks.

Tampa-based Sykes Enterprises told local officials in Minot, N.D., this week that it will close its call center there May 10, putting 200 people out of work.

But here's the twist: Sykes' problem wasn't finding enough business to handle the work; it was finding enough workers to handle the demand.

Last May, Sykes wanted to expand the Minot center to up to 450 workers. "They'd been advertising all the time for employees but just couldn't find them," said Minot Mayor Curt Zimbleman.

If the rest of the country, including Sykes' home state of Florida, is gripped in arguably the worst recession since the Great Depression, Minot is overflowing in jobs.

Zimbleman figures local unemployment is somewhere around 1 or 2 percent. In practical terms, "it probably doesn't exist," he said. (North Dakota's unemployment rate in January was 4.2 percent, compared with 8.6 percent in Florida.)

The mayor attributes his town's good fortune to the three solid legs of its economy: the Minot Air Force Base, agriculture and oil exploration/services. All three, he said, are doing just fine, thank you.

Nicknamed the "Magic City" because of its growth during the early years of the 20th century, Minot is the fourth-largest community in North Dakota, with a population just shy of 40,000. It's located due north of Bismark, some 55 miles from the Canadian border.

Back in 1996 when Sykes came to town, lured by a $2.7 million incentive package, Minot was hungry for jobs.

Sykes, which provides technical support for other companies, indicated that some workers may relocate to its call center in Bismark 100 miles away, but local officials doubt many will take that route. Or need to.

"If you're one of those individuals that found out your job won't be there, you've got to feel sorry for those folks," Zimbleman said. "But we think there's all kind of opportunity here."

After all, not far from Sykes' Minot operation is another call center that arranges vacation packages on behalf of Delta and Northwest. It's planning to hire about 100 people.

As for the jobs Sykes' was seeking to add, they will go to its other call centers.

Unable to find workers, Tampa's Sykes will close North Dakota call center 03/12/09 [Last modified: Friday, March 13, 2009 12:05am]
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