BUSINESS

Apple Hunts For BlackBerry Workers: Report

10/10/2013 10:46 EDT | Updated 12/10/2013 05:12 EST
AP
Tim Cook, director general de Apple, presenta el nuevo iPhone 5 en San Francisco, el 12 de septiembre de 2012. (Foto AP/Eric Risberg)

Apple Inc. hosted a recruitment drive not far from BlackBerry's offices last month, in the wake of the company's announcement it is planning to lay off 40 per cent of its workforce, the National Post reports.

Apple "has all but destroyed BlackBerry’s business model and now it’s after the Canadian company’s decimated workforce," the newspaper reported, noting that the California-based tech giant held a recruitment drive at a conference in nearby Cambridge, Ont., near BlackBerry's Waterloo offices, on Sept. 26, days after BlackBerry announced the job cuts.

The iPhone maker is by no means the only company hoping to pick up some of BlackBerry's talent. Google-owned Motorola announced late last month that it plans to set up a hub in Waterloo with the aim of hiring computer science and engineering talent.

Meanwhile, BlackBerry announced the closure Thursday of its offices in the Halifax area, eliminating more than 300 jobs.

The company issued a brief statement saying the location in suburban Bedford would be shut down as of Jan. 10, affecting more than 350 employees. Most of these employees work as technical support representatives.

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Evolution Of BlackBerry

The company said about 35 workers in Halifax will be offered employment, but they will have to work from their homes.

The company is cutting its global workforce by 4,500 as it struggles to deal with a shrinking market share and disappointing sales of its BlackBerry 10 smartphone.

"We know that our employees in the Halifax area have worked hard on behalf of our company and we are grateful for their commitment and contributions," the company said in a statement.

"This is difficult news for them and for the Halifax community. However, these changes are necessary in order to refocus our business to drive the company towards profitability and success in a maturing and more competitive mobile industry."

A spokeswoman for NDP Premier Darrell Dexter, who lost his seat this week in a Liberal election sweep of the province, wouldn't comment on the closure. She referred calls to premier-designate Stephen McNeil and his team, which has announced a transition team to take over power but a date hasn't been set for that to happen.

Kelly Regan, the re-elected Liberal who represents the Halifax-area riding where BlackBerry is located, said the New Democrats must have known the local operation was in jeopardy.

"I am sure that the province will have some kind of a program ready," she said in an interview. "They had to have known this was coming. All you had to do was listen to the news. I would expect that the current government was prepared for this."

Regan said the shutdown will have a big impact on Halifax because virtually all of the jobs at BlackBerry were relatively high-paying positions.

"I feel terrible for these families who are losing a major source of employment today," she said. "I do expect that we will hear from the current government on their plans."

McNeil issued a statement that says he understands the government will contact BlackBerry to identify services it can offer workers who are losing their jobs.

"BlackBerry employees are highly skilled and have worked hard for many years in the IT, finance, and analytics field, " he said. "They have helped grow our communities and our economy, and it is my sincere hope that assistance will help provide a smooth transition to new employment opportunities in the Nova Scotia economy."

BlackBerry workers leaving the company's offices Thursday declined comment.

The location in the Halifax suburb of Bedford opened in September 2008.

"We know that our employees in the Halifax area have worked hard on behalf of our company and we are grateful for their commitment and contributions," the company said in a statement.

"This is difficult news for them and for the Halifax community. However, these changes are necessary in order to refocus our business to drive the company towards profitability and success in a maturing and more competitive mobile industry."

A spokesperson declined further comment when contacted by phone.

The company was lured to Nova Scotia in 2005 by a previous Progressive Conservative government.

The province offered $19 million in subsidies, including $14 million in payroll rebates and $5 million for training and recruitment. The company was told it had to create 1,200 jobs over five years to get the full rebate.

BlackBerry drew almost $11 million from the payroll rebate program over a six-year period ending in February 2012, Nova Scotia Business Inc. has said.

In February, the provincial government announced the company could get up to $10 million over five years if it kept at least 400 jobs in Nova Scotia at an average salary of at least $60,000 a year. The money was supposed to help create a so-called centre of excellence to promote the BlackBerry 10.

More recently, the provincial government has refused to release figures on the number of jobs created by BlackBerry.

The company said Thursday it would repay a $2-million contribution from the Nova Scotia government.

During the election campaign, McNeil frequently criticized the New Democrats for handing out too many forgivable loans to large corporations. He said the province should be a lender of last resort, suggesting that grants to corporations will be a non-starter for his government.

Regan said the Liberals didn't have a problem with the financial assistance the province offered to BlackBerry because it was in the form of payroll-rebates, which are tied to job creation.

The company had already announced 300 people were being laid off at its head office in Waterloo, Ont., this week as part of a broader cost-cutting plan that will reduce its global workforce by about 40 per cent. Once the job cuts are complete, BlackBerry will have cut more than 7,000 employees since 2011, a steep decline from a total staff that once neared 20,000.

In September, BlackBerry received a conditional takeover offer from Fairfax Financial (TSX:FFH), BlackBerry's largest shareholder, worth $9 per share. The offer values the company at $4.7 billion.

Other interested buyers are also circling the company, according to reports from various media outlets. The tech names run the gamut from Google, Cisco and SAP, to Microsoft and Cisco.

Last week, BlackBerry said it expects to face costs of at least US$400 million before the end of May 2014. The expenses are tied to the severance payments for the layoffs, as well as reworking its smartphone lineup and other changes to its manufacturing, sales and marketing operations.

With files from The Canadian Press