8b0d381f1a48eedd-mbna1Dr. Gary Ferguson talks about his call center opens a call center in an old MBNA center. Photo by Ramona du Houx

August/September 2007

Ramona du Houx

When Bank of America Corp. shut down four Maine call centers as part of its $34.2 billion acquisition from credit card giant MBNA Corp., communities were devastated. Headline news predicted heavy, unrecoverable job losses. The losses happened, but all the affected communities recovered within less than a year. In fact, the communities and their workers are better off now than they were before, with sustainable-growth jobs from companies that chose Maine in nationwide searches.

When Bank of America said they couldn’t realistically keep all the MBNA facilities running, the governor was in contact with them, and Belfast remained open.

The former MBNA locations in Portland, Farmington, Fort Kent, and Presque Isle are all filled by new companies with good jobs and benefits. The current Bank of America facilities along with the sold-off facilities, now up and running, represent approximately 3,000 jobs. “That’s a job equivalent of three mills, at least,” said Jack Cashman, the governor’s economic advisor.

Time Warner took over the Portland facility, employing 200 people; NotifyMD moved into Farmington; Connect North America into Presque Isle; and Synergy into Fort Kent.

“Bank of America agreed to sell the three facilities at 40 cents on the dollar. They were great.” said Cashman. “The reduced cost made it possible for local economic development entities to purchase the facilities, which in turn attracted companies searching for state-of-the-art call center facilities with reasonable rents and great workers.”

FARMINGTON — NotifyMD, Inc., based in Tennessee, selected Farmington as the site of its new national Care Coordination Center, bringing more that 100 jobs to the area.

NotifyMD provides after-hours messaging, business hour call management, automated patient reminders, and patient care compliance for physicians. The company said it chose to locate in Maine after discussing expansion opportunities with Maine & Company, a nonprofit that promotes the state as a place to do business. Maine & Company worked alongside the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) and the Greater Franklin Development Corporation (GFDC), who purchased the former MBNA property from Bank of America.

“Putting the project together was truly a team effort, with the business community, the state, and Maine & Company,” said Alison Hagerstrom of GFDC.

“This is an exciting opportunity for the state, and we are thrilled that such a growing and innovative company has chosen Maine, in a nationwide search, as its latest expansion site,” said Baldacci during the NotifyMD opening ceremonies.

“The governor’s philosophy towards business and community, along with his determination, made Maine an extremely viable candidate for NotifyMD,” said NotifyMD president, Dr. Gary Ferguson.

PRESQUE ISLE — Connect North America (CNA), a Canadian company providing customized customer relationship management solutions, expanded into the former MBNA building in Presque Isle, bringing 300 jobs to the area. Following the MBNA closure, Bank of America sold the property to the Northern Maine Finance Corporation (NMFC). NMFC then worked with state agencies and city officials to locate a suitable business in the call center market.

“This is our first U.S. venture,” said O’Donnell of CNA. “We’re excited to be here. We anticipate injecting $4 to $5 million in wages into the local economy in a relatively short period of time.”

CNA explored the possibility of opening a branch in Maine after they interviewed potential workers at the local Career Center. They were impressed. The Aroostook Partnership for Progress (APP), an organization established to enhance the economy of northern Maine, facilitated the process.

“This project is a perfect example of the strength of the APP team working together with the Career Center staff to host job information sessions for the company. Because NMFC owns the building, we were able to present the company with a very competitive and fair proposal,” said Bob Clark, president of NMFC.

FORT KENT — “Thanks to Mr. Conklin and Synergy Solutions, 80 people in the St. John Valley will be working full time,” said Baldacci during the company’s announcement that it would be moving into Fort Kent. “This is strong economic development for Aroostook County, with workers who are second to none.”

Synergy is a supplier of outsourced tele-services solutions. The company has seven call centers throughout North America.

“Employees here are meeting and exceeding all the performance goals set for them,” said Corey Conklin of Synergy.

“Our whole team, including local officials, worked hard to attract Synergy to Fort Kent,” said Walt Elish, the partnership’s executive director. “We had a building available, along with a work force. Once Corey came here, a number of us, including the state, got involved putting together a financial package to make it economically viable for them to come here.”

Following the MBNA closure, Bank of America also sold the property to the NMFC.

“Our advantage is in a great workforce that is loyal and wants to stay close to home,” said Duane Walton, vice president of NMFC. “Turn-over rates for call centers are high in most areas; not in the county.”

The governor and his rapid-response team visited each site when the closure announcements were made. He also returned once new companies were found to welcome the new businesses to Maine.

The governor’s determination, teamwork on a state and local basis, a trained workforce, state-of-the-art facilities, and business assistance programs, including the PTZ program for three of the locations, were the needed ingredients to help turn around a situation that could have meant job and economic losses throughout the state.