Heartland America’s online catalog, advertising “Brand name products at discount prices,” has it all: Binoculars, sneakers, tablet computers, umbrellas.
But there’s one thing South Dakotans won’t get any longer from the Minnesota-based company: jobs.
The company is shutting the doors at its Custer and Rapid City call centers, according to various sources, leaving dozens of area residents looking for work.
“The company didn't notify that they had any intentions," Custer Mayor Gary Lipp said Thursday. “Everybody was asking the city, ‘Well why didn't you do something about it?’"
“What do we do now? They already made their decisions," he said. "There was no negotiations."
The Custer call center employed between 30 and 40 employees, according to various estimates. For Custer, a couple dozen year-round jobs makes a difference.
Summers, fueled by warm weather and tourist crowds, bring an influx of seasonal work. In July 2012, Custer County boasted a little over 3,300 jobs, according to state numbers. In January 2013, the county had about 2,100 jobs.
Heartland America’s Rapid City office referred questions to the company’s headquarters in Chaska, Minn., where requests for comment were not returned.
Heartland America has been active in Chaska since 1990, according to Minnesota state records. According to the company’s website, Heartland America opened in 1985.
The number of jobs to be lost in Rapid City is unclear. But Ben Snow, president of the Rapid City Economic Development Partnership, said those losses might not have a serious impact.
“I think you see expansion in some of the customer service centers and contraction in others," Snow said Thursday. In the nearly four years since he arrived in town, Rapid City has seen an increase in customer service jobs, he added.
While community leaders were surprised to hear of the closings, Alexandra Burnham learned in mid-February, when Heartland America told her she would be laid off from her job in the Custer call center.
“I guess the whole plan is to go electronic, but we do have to keep the (Minnesota) call center open because it is practically impossible to go fully electronic, especially if some people have a question on an item," Burnham, 18, said. “There's still going to be customer service.”
Burnham confirmed that the Custer branch’s last day is today and said the Rapid City branch is closing April 15. Some of the Custer employees will able to work in Rapid City call center until that office closes, she said.
Burnham has landed another job, working customer service for Regional Health. But she’ll work one last hour today, she said, taking sales orders, answering questions about rebate programs, dealing with customer complaints. All which to her has been a learning experience.
"It's not bad; it was a good place to work," Burnham said.
But for Lipp, Custer’s mayor, losing the call center means losing an anchor for the people who live year-round in the town.
“Everybody that's in there is important to the survival of the community, because they're here for 12 months,” he said. “If we lose them, they're hard to replace."