Call-Center Boom Waning

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(Sacramento, CA)
Monday, March 23, 2009

Sears, Wells Fargo and the California State Automobile Association are just a few of the companies that set up shop in the Sacramento area back in the late 1990s.

But more and more of these companies are closing. The most recent is JC Penny…which shut down its call-center in Carmichael on Friday.

Penny Mitchell has worked at the JC Penney call-center on Fair Oaks Boulevard for almost three years. It’s her last day at the office and it won’t be an easy one. 

“Well it’s really sad. It’s really hard - it’s just really hard.”

After 20 years as a stay at home mom, Mitchell says working at the call-center was a perfect job. Flexible hours, close to her home. She’s one of 260 employees that worked the phones here. 

“You know, our job here was to take catalog orders and you have a lot of older people who can’t drive and get out and so those people rely on catalogs. They don’t use computers. So, we stayed busy.”

But JC Penny officials say more and more customers are using computers to place orders. 

“With more people shopping online, we’re seeing less customer traffic coming in over the phone.” 

Spokesman Tim Lyons says that’s why they decided to shut down their Carmichael call-center after two-decades there. 

“I suppose you could say it is a sign-of-the-times. We continue to adjust to serve our customer and it’s never an easy decision to close a facility.” 

JC Penney still has five other call-centers…but they’re all outside of California. And Sacramento State economist George Jouganatos says it’s not a big surprise that…in a recession…big companies are cutting back.  

“There are perhaps higher costs in California both in terms of the cost of leasing that retail space and a bit higher wages here in California than in some other states.” 

JC Penney’s decision to close its Carmichael office further hurts Sacramento’s reputation as a cell-center magnet.

Last year, Sears shut down a call-center that scheduled deliveries for customers. And the California State Automobile Association says it plans to close its Elk Grove call center next year. 

For Penny Mitchell, losing her job at the JC Penney call-center couldn’t have come at a worse time. 

“I have two kids still in college. I have a husband who works for the state who now is going through the mandatory furloughs. So, yeah I have to find something else. But that’s easier said than done right now. It’s a little scary.” 

JC Penney officials say they’ve been directing employees impacted by the closure to other companies in the area that may be hiring.