by Jordan Green

AmEx’s disappearing act and North Carolina’s ‘lost year’

The announcement by American Express last week of plans to shutter its call center near Piedmont Triad International Airport sent shockwaves through the local political establishment, and signaled the displacement of 1,900 workers.

“In this difficult global economic environment, we appreciate and respect their corporate decision making process, but we in Greensboro do not see this as an end to our partnership with American Express, nor as a detriment to economic development in the city of Greensboro and the greater Triad region,” said Greensboro Mayor Bill Knight, who has made promotion of business one of the signature themes of his tenure, in a prepared statement.

The announcement prompted a same-day response from Gov. Beverly Perdue, who said she was encouraged to hear company officials say the decision to close the call center was not related to any misgivings about the state’s business climate while acknowledging the uncertainty facing employees.

“I have already stood up a rapid-response team made up of leaders from our workforce development teams, the Employment Security Commission and the community college system,” the governor said in a prepared statement. “Within the next seven days this team will begin working directly with AmEx employees to develop individual plans for those who need assistance.”

The American Express announcement could be considered a dramatic conclusion to what was a disappointing year in employment for the state of North Carolina.

John Quinterno, a Chapel Hill-based economist, said in a press release on Monday that net payroll employment grew by only 0.03 percent across the state last year. Since December 2007, he said, North Carolina has lost 272,800 positions, or 6.5 percent of its employment base. Since the economy bottomed out in September 2009, total payroll employment has increased by only 0.06 percent.

“2010 was in effect a lost year for North Carolina’s job market and the people who depend on it for their livelihoods,” Quinterno said.

Department store retailer pulls out of High Point mall

JC Penney announced on Monday that it will close its department store at Oak Hollow Mall in High Point. The move comes as part of a package of “strategic actions” to streamline the company by winding down its catalogue business and closing call centers in Michigan and New Mexico. The store at Oak Hollow Mall is one of five that are being closed because “they no longer meet the company’s profitability threshold,” according to an official statement. Owned by CBL & Associates Properties, Oak Hollow Mall was put up for sale last year.