Calais research center closes, lays off work force

Posted March 16, 2010, at 8:24 p.m.

CALAIS, Maine — A Canadian company that watched its customer base shrink dramatically over the past several years has closed its doors, putting more than three dozen people out of work.

Acrobat Research, based in Mississauga, Ontario, is a marketing research and polling firm.

“We have temporarily shut down for at least a few weeks, maybe longer,” President Tim Sinke confirmed Tuesday.

“The business volume is just not there to support the center,” he said. Sinke said 30 to 45 employees were affected, and there is no guarantee that any of them will be called back if the company restarts.

“That’s the shame of this,” Sinke said. “These are good people and they needed this opportunity.”

When the Calais center opened in 2008, company officials said the location was selected because of its dedicated work force and its proximity to the Canadian border. But almost immediately work slowed and the company closed for six weeks in the early spring of 2008, according to former center manager Jayda Smith.

Smith said she had to notify the 45 full-time workers last Friday that they were laid off. Smith said she was told she would not be rehired, even if the company reopened.

“We had no warning,” Smith said. “I was fired at noon and had to tell everyone they were laid off at 1 [p.m.].”

Smith said she felt the company did nothing wrong, that it was closing due to the effects of a poor economy.

“I just wish my people could have had more warning,” she said. “They struggle enough as it is. This was horrible.

“Most can draw unemployment, seek other assistance, take advantage of local food pantries, but those quick-fix plans don’t last forever and we’re talking about families here, men and women who already struggled to get by while they were employed at Acrobat,” Smith said. “These are people who wanted to be working. I worry for them.”

The Calais Research Center represented the company’s first expansion into the United States. When it opened in early 2008, Acrobat Research planned to hire up to 200 people for full- and part-time positions. The firm opened with 30 people and never added many more than that.

While the company set up operation in the former ICT Group telemarketing center, Acrobat is not a telemarketing firm. Employees conducted telephone opinion polls, customer satisfaction surveys and social research.

Sinke said he was surprised that with the political climate in Maine and the United States, business wasn’t booming. “I would have expected a lot more,” he said, “but we received very little interest from the U.S.”

The company began in 1994 and has offices in Mississauga and Capreol, Ontario; in Canso, Cheticamp and Greenwood, Nova Scotia; and in Muenster, Germany.

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