Cape Breton call centre gets $2.4-million payroll rebate from province

HALIFAX — A Cape Breton call centre recently resurrected by an Iowa-based businessman is in line for a $2.4-million payroll rebate from the province if it creates a total of 750 jobs over the next three years.

Under an agreement with Nova Scotia’s arms length business agency, NSBI, Sydney Call Centre Inc. would be eligible for a smaller rebate if it creates fewer than 750 overall jobs.

Anthony Marlowe bought the former ServiCom call centre in December in a court auction that was part of the company’s bankruptcy proceedings in the United States. He outbid two other interested buyers, offering $1.5 million for the idled operation that had thrown about 600 people out of work.

In an emailed response Monday, Marlowe said it was always his intent to apply for the business incentive.

“Leading up to the purchase we verified that we would be eligible, like any other new Nova Scotia business, to apply for a payroll rebate, which we did post-purchase,” said Marlowe, who reopened the call centre last month.

“We advised Nova Scotia that we were going to move forward with opening in good faith for the workers and clients, despite Nova Scotia not having fully reviewed our application, and we requested that be strongly considered during the process to approve the payroll rebate.”

Business Minister Geoff MacLellan said the awarding of the rebate by NSBI was not part of any deal by the province to clinch the sale of the call centre’s Sydney-based assets.

“There was never any commitment on anyone’s part to give an incentive from the province,” MacLellan said.

He said Marlowe’s company, MCI, and another of the court bidders did ask him at one point about “potential tools available.” He said they would have been in preliminary talks with NSBI about the possibility of help, but wouldn’t have had a decision by the time of the court bidding process.

“This (purchase) decision was not made assuming that there would be a payroll rebate. He (Marlowe) was taking a chance that there may or may not have been support from the provincial government.”

MacLellan, whose riding is in the Sydney area, said the fact Marlowe applied to NSBI shows he has serious expansion plans.

“The growth is going to happen here, I’m absolutely confident,” he said. “I think it’s good news all the way around, and again this is a tax rebate so he doesn’t get anything if he doesn’t produce those jobs.”

In mid-January, Marlowe confirmed that about 480 workers had returned to the operation, who NSBI says are included in the 750-jobs target.

He also said that he has plans to further expand the call centre and hire an additional 50 full-time equivalent positions by the spring.

He said the call centre had retained all of its major clients, including OnStar and AT&T, despite the bankruptcy proceedings.

Marlowe’s company had been in negotiations to buy the call centre in the weeks before its sudden closure Dec. 6.

The purchase was a relief to a community that has suffered from chronic high unemployment.

In its news release, NSBI said payroll rebates are only paid after a business has generated actual payroll for the Nova Scotia economy.

It said for every dollar a company spends on payroll from jobs created in the province, it receives between five and 10 cents back.

The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version was unclear on the number of jobs included in the rebate.