Carbonite positions itself for future growth in Maine

Posted July 24, 2012, at 7:36 p.m.

LEWISTON, Maine — Roughly a year ago, Carbonite Inc. opened its customer support call center here, bringing jobs to Maine that had once been in New Delhi, India — an example of the “onshoring” of jobs trend that’s still relatively rare.

On Tuesday, the company unveiled new space it had developed in the Mollison Way building it occupies that will allow it to grow to up to 300 employees, up from the roughly 185 it employs today.

As more individuals, businesses and other groups contract with the Boston-based company’s cloud-based data backup service, its Lewiston call center — known as Carbonite North — is ready to grow.

It’s a welcome change in Maine, where too often companies make the news for packing up and closing their doors.

“We’re not leaving Lewiston,” said Rich Surace, senior vice president for customer services at Carbonite. “This is a commitment, long term.”

Carbonite was founded in 2005 and has roughly 350 employees. It stores its clients’ data in multiple U.S. locations, and has backed up about 200 billion files, recovering more than 7 billion for clients who lost the data on their own computers. Its clients are in 99 countries, Surace said.

The company decided to bring the call center jobs to the United States to improve customer satisfaction, he said. Previously, the customer support functions had been outsourced to several third-party vendors.

While lower costs often are cited as a reason to send jobs offshore, Surace said Carbonite looks at the cost per customer case. Since moving operations to Maine, customers’ problems often are solved quickly, with just one call. Customer satisfaction scores have increased noticeably, he said, and many clients have contacted the company, thanking Carbonite for bringing the jobs to the United States, and Maine, in particular.

On Tuesday, about 100 Carbonite employees sat in cubicles at the call center, a softly lit operation that’s been sound-proofed to keep conversations low and intrusive. While most of the clients who are calling in speak English, the center also takes advantage of employee language skills to sometimes answer calls in French or Spanish, said Surace.

The workforce has proven well-suited to the work, he said. Last year, 35 percent of the workers were promoted to higher positions. The number of “tier three” call center representatives — able to work on the most difficult technical cases, often in conjunction with Boston-based engineers — is six months ahead of schedule, meaning a good number of the employees have quickly learned a great deal about the Carbonite technology.

The employees are full time and have full benefits, he said. They work hourly or are on a salary, and aren’t paid by the call, so there’s no time limit on how long they may spend on the phone with clients, he added.

And the company has used local companies for everything from electrical services to Internet connectivity needs, tapping into Oxford Networks and Fairpoint Communications.

“It’s amazing to work with the dynamic community of Lewiston-Auburn,” said Surace. “It’s been a really good relationship between the community and Carbonite.”

Surace said Carbonite looked at 75 locations before choosing Lewiston, and worked closely with Maine & Co., a private nonprofit business attraction group, in the process of coming to the state. Demographics including the education level of the labor pool, ease of doing business and other factors came into play — not the least of which was that the city was just about two hours away from the company’s headquarters.

John Butera, Gov. Paul LePage’s senior economic adviser, called Carbonite North a “welcome success story.” The state could set policy and processes to help the business along, he said, but it was the local community that really sealed the deal. The real beneficiaries, he said, were the 185 employees.

“They have quality jobs, a quality career path,” Butera said.

Butera told the Bangor Daily News that it is incumbent on the state to put policies in place that help mitigate some of the risk and uncertainty that businesses face, making it easier for them to invest.

“We have to have good policy that is consistent and long term, exhibiting a willingness to support return on investment,” he said.

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