Nine years ago, local and state officials were celebrating the arrival of TeleTech Holdings to the city of Niagara Falls and the estimated 750 new jobs it would bring.

On Thursday, the company released an inter-office memo to its employees alerting them that 548 workers at the site — almost the entire work force — will be laid off by Feb. 28. The memo, labeled “private and confidential, internal use only, not for external distribution” was sent by Site Director Michael Stefanski, regarding “Recent Business Development.”

The Niagara Gazette obtained a copy of the memo late Friday.

“We know that this news may be unsettling,” Stefanski wrote to employees in the memo. “Rest assured, however, that we will continuously share information with you as it becomes available.”

Since opening, the Niagara Falls’ Call Service Center has provided telecommunications services for businesses, such as processing loan applications and airline reservations as well as providing customer assistance for software companies, airlines, telephone companies and businesses requiring high technology customer service solutions.

According to the memo, all of the company’s working contracts have run out.

“Regretfully, I must inform you that we expect as of Feb. 28, 2006, we will no longer provide services to the client you have supported out of our Niagara Falls Customer Service Management Center,” Stefanski wrote in the memo. “To coincide with the end of this project, TeleTech must unfortunately announce a layoff that will affect almost all of the employees supporting this project in our Niagara Falls CMC. This layoff will affect approximately 548 employees and is expected to be effective as of the close of business on Feb. 28, 2006. No bumping or seniority rights exist with this layoff and the layoff is expected to be permanent.”

Employees with additional questions about the memo were instructed to call Stephen Frocchi, human resources manager. A call to Frocchi’s office on Saturday resulted in a pre-recorded voice message saying he was “currently traveling and out of the office until Tuesday, Dec. 27.” Recruiter Alison Welch, another contact on the memo, could not be reached to comment.

Niagara Falls Mayor Vince Anello said he received a certified letter from Teletech on Friday morning informing him of the upcoming layoffs. He also spoke to a company official on the phone.

“Certainly, this is a setback,” Anello said Saturday. “However, in my conversation with them, it sounded as if they were aggressively looking for new clients. They’re hopeful.”

While the 548 layoffs represents almost all of the current staff, a “core group of key roles” will be retained at the site to provide continuity for any new business that could be placed there, according to the memo.

“This core group of employees also will allow those employees affected by this layoff to maintain a point of contract with the Niagara Falls CMC for any future employment opportunities,” Stefanski wrote. “Please be aware that TeleTech will work with you through this transition so that you can make educated and informed decisions about your career and future.”

A retention plan has been implemented for all affected employees. In addition, the company will be hosting meetings and providing information about programs available from federal and state agencies.

TeleTech’s Niagara Falls center was expected to be a catalyst for economic development in the city back in September 1996 when Gov. George Pataki announced it was leasing 65,000 square feet of space at the old Falls Street Faire and employ 750 people. At that time, TeleTech had 10 centers in the United States, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom with 5,000 employees and annual sales exceeding $100 million.

In the past few years, however, the Falls location has been plagued by decreasing business and has had hundreds of layoffs. Anello said he’s hoping the most recent round of cuts won’t shutter the business for good.

“I offered them whatever help we could give them,” Anello said. “They emphasized they want to stay here in Niagara Falls.”

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