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January 9, 2019

Wilton Barclaycard closing came as surprise to town

Photo / Fred Field Rhonda Irish, town manager of Wilton, told Mainebiz today that Barclaycard's announcement on Tuesday that it will close its operations in Wilton at the end of March came as a surprise to the town. But she's confident, based on the town's history of meeting the challenge of major employer closings, that the lost jobs will be replaced.

The announcement Barclaycard in Wilton will close at the end of March, putting 227 out of work, was a surprise to the town of 4,100, but the town has been there before.

Wilton has already started rallying to make sure those who will lose their jobs are taken care of, Town Manager Rhonda Irish said Wednesday morning. The town has weathered many factory closings and layoffs, including Bass Shoe Co., which occupied the building Barclaycard is in, and closed in 1998 after 112 years as the town’s biggest employer.

The Wilton call center, one of four in the United States for the British credit card-processing company, was a niche site, dealing with card retention, fraud and dispute resolution, as well as regular customer service issues.

In July 2018, L.L. Bean moved its credit card business out of Barclaycard to Citi Retail Services, but Barclaycard officials said at the time it wouldn’t affect business in Wilton.

Barclaycard informed the town by email Tuesday afternoon that it would close. Immediate attempts by Mainebiz to reach company contacts were not successful.

While Barclaycard is giving the employees severance packages, Irish said that the town, working with the state Department of Labor, wants to make sure “all benefits, outside the range of what Barclays is doing, are available.”

She said the selectmen will meet tonight, despite the weather.

“They want to get this taken care of,” she said. “In some cases, you have a husband and wife who both work for the company, so that’s a whole family out of work.”

State to assist laid-off workers

On Tuesday, Gov. Janet Mills directed the Department of Labor “to use all available resources to support the employees, their families, and the Wilton community.”

“This is deeply disappointing news that will have a profound impact on the community, the employees and their families,” Mills said in a news release. “We will marshal the resources of the Department of Labor and other government agencies to support the employees, their families, and the community, beginning by deploying a rapid response team to meet with the employees to provide reemployment services and help evaluate their health insurance and severance options.”

Irish said that workers at Barclaycard were not only from Wilton, in southern Franklin County, but also from other towns in the region, including Jay, Livermore Falls and Rumford.

“It drew from probably a half-hour drive radius,” she said. “Barclay was a great employer for the region. People really enjoyed their jobs there.”

Quick growth, but challenges

Barclaycard was one of the town’s two largest employers. Jarden Manufacturing, which makes plastic tableware, employs more than 200, Irish said. The company opened in Wilton in 2008 with 10 employees, largely to support a new credit card with L.L. Bean.

A $5 million expansion in 2015  in gave the company capacity for 500 employees, though that number was never reached. The location performed well enough that the company felt it was worthwhile to invest in the expansion, Doug Villone, Barclaycard’s director of business strategy told Mainebiz at the time.

“We looked at the performance of Wilton and it continues to perform strongly," he said. "We get low employee attrition and it's a cost-effective place for us to operate."

Ever since Barclaycard started call center operations in Wilton, Villone said the company has found that it has been a "great market" for the company.

"With all the mill closures in that part of the state, there was an employment void we were able to help fill," he said, "and they were folks who were a good match for the business that we do."

At the time, the company employed 380 in Wilton.

Two years later, Jen McEntee, Barclay’s director of Maine operations at the time, told Mainebiz that the Wilton center was known in the company for the longevity of its employees.

Area residents want the rare career-path jobs Barclays offers, she said, and many stay with the company “for two, three, four, five, 10 years,” said McEntee, who has since left the position for another one within the company.

In June 2017, the company employed 360 in Wilton, but recruiting was tough in the area. Franklin County has a population of 30,000, and most of neighboring Androscoggin County’s workers were in the Lewiston-Auburn area, 40 miles south.

“We’re not going to get 500 workers from just Wilton and Farmington,” so the company was constantly casting its net farther. “We’re never going to be a thousand-person site. But we will be a 400, 450-person site.”

'Good community neighbor'

Irish said Wednesday she was surprised at the low number of employees the company now has — saying she hadn’t heard any news from Barclaycard about layoffs over the past year.

Barclaycard leased space in a portion of the 221,000-square-foot former Bass Shoe Co. complex on Weld Road owned by Western Maine Development LLC. Irish said the company paid personal property tax of $8,800 to the town last year.

Irish said she’s already talked to the buildings owners about filling the space.

Maine Made Manufacturing also occupies space in the complex, and several businesses lease storage space.

Before Barclaycard moved into the center in 2008, call center ITC was there. That company replaced another call center, which had replaced Bass Shoe Co., which was the town’s major employer for a 122 years before it was sold to Dutch company Phillips-Van Heusen Corp. in 1998.

The new owners closed the Wilton plant, with a loss of 350 area jobs.

Aside from the blow of lost jobs for area residents, the latest closing will be felt in other ways.

Irish said employees from out of town shopped and ate in downtown Wilton, and they also were engaged in town activities.

“They were a very good community neighbor,” she said.

Employees are active in town events, including taking part in Wilton’s August Blueberry Festival parade and nearby Farmington’s Chester Greenwood parade.

“They’d be downtown planting flowers, working with local organizations,” Irish said. “That will be a loss.”

Employees get two paid hours a month for volunteer time in the community and 98% of them use it, McEntee said in 2017.

Mills, who is from neighboring Farmington, said, “Wilton is a beautiful lakeside community, a great place to live and raise a family, and already has a willing and productive workforce. I am confident other employers will see this change as an opportunity and will power their businesses with the hard workers of Franklin County.”

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