2006-12-09 / Front Page

500 jobs cut in Coudersport

Time Warner drops bomb on Potter County

Dec. 7, 2006, will be remembered as a day of infamy in Potter County.

Most of Coudersport woke up Thursday to the news that corporate officials at Time Warner Cable (TWC) had dropped a bomb on the community.

Casualties: at least 500 fulltime employees.

Collateral damage: economic and social consequences of epic proportions.

On the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor surprise attack, TWC confirmed Coudersport’s worst fears -- the company will largely pull out of town by Feb. 5. All that will be left of the 600-plus-member workforce is about 75 people.

And it gets worse.

The Time Warner bombshell comes at the same time dozens of employees who have clung to jobs in Coudersport with the “Adelphia Estate” face elimination of their positions in the coming weeks

TWC officials said relocation to company facilities in Buffalo or other parts of the country was an option for all of the affected employees. The company is offering $7,000 to help pay moving expenses.

Ripple effect

That may be an alternative for the workers, but it won’t cushion the blow to Coudersport or diminish the ripple effect on surrounding communities. About half of the TWC workforce commutes to Coudersport from Port Allegany, Emporium, Olean, Wellsville and other towns within an hour’s drive.

Employees such as Kim Pennington (right) from the Sales & Marketing Advanced Retention Team will lose their jobs when Time Warner Cable shuts down most of its Coudersport operations in February. The modern Data Center (above) will remain in operation, headquarters for most of the 75 engineering and information technology employees who will keep their jobs. Employees such as Kim Pennington (right) from the Sales & Marketing Advanced Retention Team will lose their jobs when Time Warner Cable shuts down most of its Coudersport operations in February. The modern Data Center (above) will remain in operation, headquarters for most of the 75 engineering and information technology employees who will keep their jobs. Time Warner said it will keep about 75 employees in information technology and engineering roles, since TWC envisions continuing use of the multi-million-dollar Data Center in west Coudersport.

Fate of the other TWC-owned buildings, including the former Coudersport Elementary School on North Main Street, remains uncertain. The garish Operations Center built in 2001 on South Main Street is owned by the Adelphia Estate. Its future is also uncertain.

TWC spokesperson Maureen Huff said economics and the fact that her company does not have cable television customers in the Coudersport area were among the reasons for the job eliminations.

“When we assumed operations this summer, we already knew that the costs to maintain the call center in Coudersport were significantly higher than our existing call center operations,” she said. “But with the understanding that these jobs significantly impact the economy of Coudersport and hundreds of people, we sought to create a business case . . . However, we could not justify it economically or operationally. This decision reflects the fact that we are not the cable provider in this area and we have other significant call center operations throughout our service areas.”

‘Miscommunication’?

Employees who learned of the decision late Wednesday during a meeting at the APCC -- formerly known as the Tennis Center -- blasted TWC for breaking its pledge to keep them on the job at least until next August. A TWC official explained the contradiction as a “miscommunication.”

Reactions to the news were just beginning to filter in at press time. Potter County Commissioner John Torok told the Bradford Era that his board had done all it could to persuade TWC to stay.

“They’ve done what they have to do as managers and good businessmen,” Torok said. “We will survive. That doesn’t mean that people won’t be hurt. This is one of those times when a community shows its strength and comes together. We’ll embrace each other and work through it. We’re not the first community to be hit like this and I’m sure we won’t be the last.”

Commissioner Catherine Bowers said one lesson that could be drawn from the episode is that economic development officials should focus on helping existing businesses expand and start-up businesses launch, as an alternative to basing a community’s economy on a single employer.

There was speculation in Coudersport that the Time Warner bombshell could prompt the Coudersport Area School Board to reconsider its plan to borrow millions of dollars for expansion of the elementary school.

TWC and Comcast purchased the assets of Adelphia for about $17 billion in cash and stock. The Coudersport properties were among those acquired by Time Warner. About 150 Adelphia employees in Coudersport were terminated when Time Warner took over in August.

The cable system serving Coudersport, Emporium, Port Allegany, Austin and Roulette was not affected by the sale. That system is owned and operated by Zito Media, a company owned by the Rigas family, founders of Adelphia.

Still uncertain is the status of significant tax breaks granted to Adelphia several years ago for new construction in Coudersport. Those incentives were tied in with an obligation to maintain jobs and county officials are investigating whether Time Warner is bound by the same provisions.

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