Carbonite’s offices on Mollison Way in Lewiston. The company says as it loses workers here, it is hiring replacements, as needed, at a Jamaican call center. The company employs half as many people in the Lewiston office as it did three years ago. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

LEWISTON — Seven years after Carbonite announced it was bringing tech call center jobs back to the United States from India — and had picked Lewiston for hundreds of those new positions — the company has started sending some Lewiston jobs to Jamaica.

And after being hailed for new investment and business leadership, Carbonite since 2015 has halved the number of employees working here.

In annual reports filed with the state for tax incentives under the Pine Tree Development Zone Program, Carbonite reported maintaining more than 365 “new, quality jobs” in 2014 and 2015 in its office above a bowling alley on Mollison Way.

By 2016, the number dropped to 226.

Fewer than 180 work there now, according to the company.

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Norman Guadagno, whose title at Carbonite is chief evangelist and senior vice president of marketing, said in an interview last week that it’s part of a broader strategy that reflects Carbonite’s changing customer base. The company is signing on more business clients with complex data backup, storage and security needs as it sees a shrinking consumer market known for being quicker to call for help.

Since May, when lower-skilled employees leave the Lewiston office, their work has been picked up, as needed, by new hires at a Jamaican call center.

“I’ll be very clear: People are not losing their jobs and then those jobs are going to Jamaica; people lose their jobs through attrition, voluntary and sometimes involuntary (ways), and if it’s a tier 1 job and we need to fill it, we will fill a tier 1 job in Jamaica,” said Guadagno.

“It is no way a reflection of a diminished commitment to the Lewiston facility,” he added. “It’s a reflection of an increased commitment to the right type of people in each of the facilities that we have.”

Guadagno said Carbonite still considers Lewiston “our core, main support hub.”

Spokeswoman Sarah King declined to say whether the company has extended its lease at 24 Mollison Way that, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing, is set to expire June 1, 2018.

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A representative for the building’s owner also declined comment.

A former Carbonite employee, terminated this winter for what he was told was a quality issue, said the job losses — more than half of the workforce in three years — have been a hit on morale.

“They’ve become a lot more strict in their policies to kind of phase people out,” said the former employee who asked to remain anonymous of out job concerns. “I don’t think they’ve told anyone they’re letting you go because we want (the work to go to) Jamaica, but I think that’s exactly what’s happening.”

‘We were a different company’ 

In May 2011, then-CEO David Friend announced, to much fanfare at the chamber of commerce, that Carbonite was closing a five-year-old tech support call center in India to bring jobs here.

Maine workers would earn nearly three times more per hour, but the added cost would be offset by what the area had to offer: several colleges, good fiber optics, potential for long-term growth and proximity to Carbonite’s Boston headquarters.

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At the time, the company had just one satellite office, in India, and employed 140 people in Boston.

Carbonite later went public in 2011, growing from a company with one product and roughly $84 million in annual revenue to nine products, 1,000 employees and, when figures are released later this winter, what’s forecast to be more than $240 million in adjusted revenue last year, according to King.

It now has tech support call staff in Lewiston, Utah, Indianapolis, outside Toronto, the United Kingdom and Jamaica.

Robert Frost, Carbonite’s vice president of customer care, said 36 agents currently work in Jamaica.

“In 2011, we were, in every way except the name and the basic thing that we provide, a different company,” Guadagno said. “Unlike 2011 where basically we served essentially one audience, today we serve lots of different audiences at difference price points, audiences that pay us $60 a year and audiences that pay us $600,000.”

The revenue mix now is 70 percent business customers and 30 percent direct from consumers, the vast majority of the latter being renewals, he said.

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It’s meant a drop in calls, though Guadagno declined to say by how much.

“At the Lewiston center, which had traditionally served everybody, we have intentionally been moving to higher level support tiers to support more of our high level business customers,” he said. “Every time we add a tier 2 or tier 3, depending on volume or growth, those tier 2 or tier 3 positions will be in Lewiston; a small number may be in Utah or Indianapolis. This multi-location, global footprint strategy is setting us up for the growth we see over the next five years.”

Guadagno said attrition in Lewiston is around 70 percent — for every 100 employees, roughly 70 leave inside a year. (In 2011, when Carbonite announced the move here, company attrition was less than 3 percent.)

He said a recent decision to scale back the Lewiston call center’s hours by two hours a day was due to more efficient scheduling. 

A Maine Department of Labor spokeswoman said the DOL has not conducted any Rapid Response seminars in response to sudden downsizing at the Lewiston location in the last three years.

‘A really positive story’

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When it applied to the Pine Tree Development Zone Program in 2011 for tax incentives linked to creating new, full-time jobs that pay above the Androscoggin county average, Carbonite said its purpose was to move support jobs here from offshore.

In its application, provided by the Department of Economic and Community Development, Carbonite estimated spending $500,000 on building improvements, $500,000 outfitting the space and $1 million training employees.

DECD spokesman Doug Ray said since 2011, Carbonite has had 1,379 hires and invested more than $3.2 million, figures recently shared with the Legislature’s Labor, Commerce, Research & Economic Development Committee as it considers a bill on whether to extend the length of the Pine Tree program.

Carbonite receives 80 percent of Maine state income tax withholdings on “qualified employees” for 10 years, according to its acceptance letter.

In annual Pine Tree reports, Carbonite told the state it had 189 employees in 2011, 137 of whom qualified for the tax incentive by being new, full-time, above-average-paying jobs.

The company received the city of Lewiston’s Economic Achievement Award in 2012, with city staff noting: “Carbonite’s relocation of a customer service center from India to Lewiston is the great news story of the year. … New investment ‘from away,’ new investment that ran counter to the prevailing trend of jobs going offshore bolstered local confidence and sparked a resurgence in new investment.”

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In 2014 and 2015, Carbonite had 371 and 368 qualified Pine Tree jobs, respectively.

When Carbonite received the local chamber of commerce’s annual Business Leadership Award in 2013, it revealed plans “for a large expansion in the future.” The next two years, it was voted among the “Best Places to Work in Maine.”

Carbonite spokeswoman King disputed the job numbers in Pine Tree reports, which were self-reported by Carbonite, saying the company had had fewer employees in recent years.

She said Lewiston currently has 179 workers and is “likely to ramp up but cannot comment beyond this point about hiring plans.”

“I don’t want there to be any doubt about our commitment to our customers, to the Lewiston support center and to continuing to provide great jobs and great job growth opportunities to people,” Guadagno said. “We’re actually excited about the transformation we’ve gone through and the transformation the Lewiston support center has gone through. We think there’s actually a really positive story.”

kskelton@sunjournal.com

  


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