MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) – A call center that promised to bring over 300 jobs to the Myrtle Beach area has reportedly closed down, just weeks after opening at the HGTC campus at the Market Common.
Greenwood Hall, a California-based call center that helps colleges and students with financial aid, student recruitment, and student support, was turning employees away at the door Friday morning and refusing to pay them for the past three weeks of work, according to several employees who called the WMBF newsroom.
A WMBF News crew at the Myrtle Beach location saw several distraught employees outside the Greenwood Hall offices Friday morning.
The Greenwood Hall Twitter and Facebook pages are also apparently shut down.
Greenwood Hall CEO Bill Bradfield explained Friday that an outside investor had the assets for Greenwood Hall, and they were trying to sell those assets to another company, AnswerNet. Over the past two days, Greenwood Hall lost several clients, which caused AnswerNet to drop out. Bradfield said they could not figure out how to make this investment work out financially.
Bradfield said he learned Thursday evening that the logistics of the funding and investment for the company were not going to work out. He said they're figuring out a way to get the employees some type of pay right now there's a lot of unanswered questions.
Josh Kay with the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation confirmed that he was informed late Thursday night that the call center would be closing. He said the MBREDC will be working with SC Works and other state and local non-profit agencies to provide assistance to the call center's former employees.
Horry Georgetown Technical College was one Greenwood Hall's clients and housed the call center at its Myrtle Beach campus. They provided the following statement:
Bradfield said on Wednesday that they had already hired 50 to 60 employees, and made their first call on December 8.
"We have 55 to 60 right here. We hope to grow that. Well, we will grow it in January because the students come back in January. So we'll be in the 80 range when that happens," Bradfield had said earlier this week. "We also have some other clients we hope to bring on so we'll just continue to grow. The long-term plan is 60 to 70 people additionally every year up to about 300."
The company's Texas branch unexpectedly closed down on Dec. 1, leaving hundreds of people without jobs.
"I wouldn't want anyone to go through what some of me and my ex-coworkers are having to deal with," said Tejus Collins, a former employee of Greenwood Hall. "Nov. 30, there was an email sent to the office as a mass email - I believe at 11:37 at night - saying effective Dec. 1, they were going to close down the Bryan, Texas location."
Collins said she knew of employees who had not been paid for the last two weeks of their work. Bradfield said that about 20 percent of employees hadn't received their last paycheck, but he was working to get it to them by Friday.
"The Texas location was closed for a couple of reasons," Bradfield said. "First, it was very expensive, so that's why we decided to build here."
This wasn't the first financial issue for the company. Reports show their former CEO, Dr. John Hall, resigned back in July following financial trouble. Bradfield took over the company in August.
"The board brought me in here to make kind of a turnaround of the company because it just wasn't doing well financially and this center here was one of the moves to help it financially," he said.
On Friday, Hall released a lengthy statement following the closure of the Myrtle Beach branch of Greenwood Hall, saying he was "extremely disappointed" that the company closed locations in Texas and South Carolina in the span of two weeks, "leaving both employees and customers out in the cold."
"It is difficult to understand how a company with sustainable contracts, that was held out just a few days ago as having turned the corner financially and making great progress, could just close overnight," Hall said. "It is hard to fathom how any properly empowered executive was basically made aware of the need for these closures literally hours before they occurred."
Hall alleged that, in a span of nine months, hedge funds took $1.5 million in cash from Greenwood Hall, money he said was needed to ensure the company grew and operated.
"As I did for 19 years, I fought hard for the company, its employees and our customers, which did not sit well with the parties in charge," Hall said in his statement. "Well, before the problems that were reported in the media over the summer, my authority had been taken away and I had little power to move the company forward, yet I was held out as the company's CEO. This was the real reason I had little choice but to resign."
Bradfield said earlier this week the company had turned the corner financially. It planned to hire around 70 people each year in Myrtle Beach until they were up to 300 employees.
"I'm extremely optimistic. As a company we need to build trust with our clients and I think that this move to S.C. is going to be great for us," Bradfield said.
Earlier this week, WMBF News asked the MBREDC why the group recruited a company with financial issues.
"We did a lot of research on the company," Kay said. "We actually sat and met with the new CEO as well as their management team and walked through all of the previous issues that Greenwood Hall had. I will say the new CEO is six months on the job and they made a lot of changes that are changing the culture and the profitability of the company which is why we felt comfortable partnering with them."