MCI to shut Hunt Valley center, cut 300 jobs

Telemarketing unit to cease Sept. 30, a victim of `new market realities'

Long-distance firm was hurt by rise of cell phones

August 04, 2005|By William Patalon III | William Patalon III,SUN STAFF

MCI Inc. confirmed yesterday that it's shutting down its Hunt Valley telemarketing center, a move that will result in 300 lost jobs by the end of September and bring down the curtain on a facility that just five years ago employed 1,200 people.

Employees were informed Friday about the job cuts, which take effect Sept. 30, MCI spokeswoman Brittany Feinson said.

Some executive-level employees will be transferred to MCI operations in Towson, where the company employs about 100 people, but other employees will be terminated, the nation's No. 2 long-distance provider confirmed.

The telemarketing center at 230 Schilling Circle focused mainly on selling products and services to small businesses, Feinson said.

The MCI spokeswoman denied the move is linked to its pending $6.7 billion takeover by Verizon Communications Inc. Instead, MCI in a statement attributed the need to cut jobs to the "new market realities" of the telecommunications business.

"We are streamlining operations while continuing to place our primary focus on the enterprise segment of our industry," the government agencies and corporate customers that are MCI's mainstay businesses, the statement said.

The impetus for the current cuts aside, the shifting landscape in the telecommunications business has had a decidedly negative long-term impact on MCI's Hunt Valley operation.

The company said employment peaked at about 1,200 people in 2000 and 2001, when it housed both the telemarketing operation and a call center.

But ferocious competition in the telecom sector touched off brutal price wars at the same time as many consumers were shifting to cell phones, resulting in downsizing, bankruptcy filings and consolidations - including the proposed takeovers of long-distance rivals MCI and AT&T.

In the second half of last year, the number of cell-phone users eclipsed the number of conventional ground-based phone lines for the first time, the Federal Communications Commission said in a report last month. Cell phones took business from MCI, which is strictly a long-distance and Internet company.

Against that dour backdrop, employment at the Hunt Valley MCI facility has nose-dived. In 2002, MCI said it was closing the call-center operation, a move that eliminated 600 to 680 jobs.

And when the commercial lease for the Schilling Circle building came up for renewal in early 2004, MCI renewed it for five years, but cut space back to 75,000 square feet, said Joe Nolan, the NAI KLNB real estate broker who negotiated the agreement.

Nolan said the Schilling Circle building and another building of about 200,000 square feet on International Drive are the only office vacancies of any real size in the Hunt Valley market.

"There are just not a lot of large parcels of office space in that market," Nolan said.

MCI declined to discuss its plans for the facility.

Baltimore County's Department of Economic Development did not find out about the job reduction until yesterday, which precluded any effort to save the telemarketing center, said David S. Iannucci, the county's executive director of economic development.

"They did not contact us in advance: We're hearing the reports just [today]," Iannucci said. "But there are a lot of other call centers in the region, so it's likely there will be employment opportunities for people who wish to stay in the industry. I'm very optimistic these people will be able to find other opportunities."

MCI is planning to offer employees job-search assistance and job fairs at its Hunt Valley offices on Sept. 8 and 15, Feinson said.

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