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Brier Dudley's blog

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

January 15, 2009 at 10:34 AM

While economists fret, Qwest announces big layoff in Seattle

Adding to the economic malaise being outlined during this morning’s Enterprise Seattle Economic Forecast Conference at the Seattle Sheraton, Qwest just announced a major layoff in Seattle.

The company said that it’s closing its downtown Seattle call center on April 15. The 235 employees will be given the option of moving to Phoenix, Boise, Salt Lake City or Des Moines, Iowa.

It’s part of a reorganization effort that’s consolidating consumer credit and collection for Qwest’s west region at a call center in Boise.

“The company hopese to retain as many of these trained and experienced employees as possible at one of the regional call centers,” Qwest said in the release.

Qwest is trying to sell the building, its longtime Seattle headquarters at 1600 Seventh Ave., but the timing’s tough.

Commercial real estate in Seattle still hasn’t found the bottom of its economic trough, Jim DeLisle, director of the Runstad Center for Real Estate Studies at the University of Washington said during the forecast conference. He’s expecting further double-digit writedowns of commercial real estate.

A turnaround – when job growth and housing construction return to growth – isn’t likely until 2010, Seattle economist Dick Conway said. To gauge when things hit bottom, Conway suggested watching the rate of change in real estate prices: “If prices are falling but at a slower rate, the end may be near.” (He was referring to the end of the crisis …)

There are still a few bright spots. Concur Chairman Steve Singh said the tech industry will continue to grow but at “more compressed rates.”

“We do see opportunities for fast growth in the tech industry but it will be very compartmentalized,” he said.

Qwest isn’t pulling out completely. Spokesman Bob Gravely said the company employs about 1,920 in the Seattle area and about 3,200 statewide, including the affected call center employees. Most of the 1,920 Seattle employees are in the same Bell Plaza building in downtown.

UPDATE: Gravely also wasn’t keen on my use of the word “layoff” because the employees can keep their jobs if they move.

“We’re closing the center here but the jobs themselves aren’t disappearing and the employees can keep them if they are willing to move,” he said via email.

Okay: in Seattle, Qwest is cutting 235 jobs.

I wonder if the distinction will make it tougher for employees who don’t move to Idaho or Iowa to get unemployment benefits?

Comments | More in | Topics: Public policy, Tech work, Telecom

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