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Saks center to cut 191 jobs at distribution center in Aberdeen

Nearly 200 people will lose their jobs after the New Year at a Saks Inc. distribution center in Aberdeen, according to a notice filed Wednesday with the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

Starting Jan. 3, the company plans to cut 191 jobs at the 584,000-square-foot facility, which opened in 2007. That’s more than three-quarters of the total workforce there, which a Harford County official said was reduced to about 250 jobs after a round of layoffs last year.

Saks, the parent company of retailer Saks Fifth Avenue, was acquired by Toronto-based Hudson’s Bay Co. last month in a $2.9 billion deal. Representatives for HBC could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but James C. Richardson, director of Harford County’s Office of Economic Development, said the layoffs are related to HBC’s decision to consolidate distribution centers.

Hudson’s Bay also owns retailer Lord & Taylor, and Richardson said the company is consolidating Saks distribution operations in Aberdeen with a Lord & Taylor distribution center in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

“When we learned about the acquisition, we were hopeful the distribution centers would be consolidated here in Harford County, but we learned today that didn’t happen,” Richardson said Wednesday.

The Aberdeen facility will still handle returns and off-market merchandise from Saks Fifth Avenue and Saks Fifth Avenue OFF 5th stores, as well as items from Lord & Taylor, Richardson said.

“And we hope that once the product starts moving through again, there will be demand to hire additional people back [at the Aberdeen facility], but probably not as many as were let go,” he added.

Layoffs are not new for the Aberdeen distribution center. Saks announced in May 2012 that it intended to cut 223 of what were then nearly 700 jobs at the facility over the summer. Company representatives said then that Saks was moving fulfillment operations for its website to a larger facility in Tennessee.

Those layoffs, however, were unrelated to the cuts announced Wednesday.

“It’s concerning, certainly,” Richardson said. “This is coming from Hudson’s Bay Co. and probably their desire to build a new brand. We don’t know what the long-range plan is for this. And Hudson’s Bay, obviously, is a Canadian company, so, you know, I guess they just don’t care about protecting jobs here.”

DLLR officials did not have any additional information Wednesday except to say the department is in contact with the company and is available to assist employees.

Richardson said he would like to send other large employers from the county directly to the Aberdeen facility to interview the affected employees for positions. He said Harford County has done that in the past for similar situations, but he was not sure if Saks would allow it.

“We’ve got some very large distribution centers remaining in the county,” Richardson said. “Rite-Aid, Clorox, Sephora — so there are jobs out there. Unfortunately, with the timing, all those facilities have already ramped up to hire seasonal help … and by the time the [Saks layoffs] begin in January, that’ll be the same time those other retailers are letting seasonal workers go.”