Echostar loss: 600 jobs

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Richard Egerton has worked at Subway on Lyle Boulevard in McKeesport for four years. In all that time he could count on an 11 a.m. to noon rush of employees from the Dish Network facility across the road. In March, that will end, as Dish Network shuts down and its 600 employees will no longer patronize surrounding businesses.

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SHUTTING DOWN—The 105,000-square foot Dish Network customer service call center in McKeesport will close in March, affecting 600 employees.

What does that mean for Egerton and Subway’s five other employees?

“I’m expecting a loss of business,” he said. “I mean, we’ve got other customers, but we’ll probably have some layoffs.”

Two doors down at Pizza Hut, employees said they were told by management not to discuss the Dish Network closing or any possible effect on business. For the most part, Dish Network employees did not want to talk about the shutdown either. One, however, who asked to remain anonymous but added he’d be there “’til they turn the lights off,” said employees are gun-shy after being swamped by the media when the impending closing was made public last month.

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BAD FOR BUSINESS— Subway manager Richard Egerton said he expects a substantial loss in business probably resulting in layoffs when the Dish Network facility across the road shuts its doors in March.

“When this was first announced, the press was all over this place, even had helicopters,” he said. “They were ambushing people coming in for the second shift who hadn’t been told. They heard about losing their jobs from reporters—some learned about it watching the news.”

With the customer service call center down to 600 employees from a peak of about 1,200 in 2000, the building at the industrial park is now just too large, the worker added.

“We used to run three shifts, now it’s just two and they’ll probably cut that back as things wind down,” he said. “They are offering positions to people in their call centers in Hilliard, Ohio or New Jersey, maybe West Virginia or down in Virginia, but I don’t know how many, or how many people can even go there.”

Though the closing is a blow to the entire Mon Valley, with workers coming from Duquesne, Clairton and even New Eagle, McKeesport will feel the most immediate effect with the loss of its $52 yearly head tax for emergency services. With 600 people leaving, that’s more than $30,000 in revenue leaving with them. McKeesport’s unemployment rate is 10.2 percent.

“This is no different than UPMC closing in Braddock,” said Mayor James Brewster. “I am disappointed they did not reach out. We have always had a good relationship with the management team in McKeesport.”

Both Allegheny County and the Regional Industrial Development Corp. provided considerable subsidies to bring Echostar, as it was then called, to McKeesport in 1998. The company received $5.1 million from the RIDC to open in 1998, $2.5 million from the state and $5.4 million in low-interest grants and loans from the county.

Even with the call center closing, the county will go ahead with plans to use $12 million in state and federal transportation funds to build a flyover ramp to the industrial park so employees needn’t cross railroad tracks.

RIDC President Brooks Robinson said he is working to find another company to fill the cavernous 105,000- square foot facility, a former U.S. Steel pipe mill, when the current lease expires in March.

(Send comments to cmorrow@ newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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