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Recession-ravaged employees resist relocation

DANBURY -- Add together the housing slump and fears about job security and the result is that employees today are staying put.

Firms that specialize in relocation services are feeling the effects as corporate executives turn down transfers and companies avoid the expense of moving people around.

"We've seen a reduction in the volume of domestic relocations because clients are experiencing resistance to relocation and everyone's trying to save money in this economy," said Lina Paskeviskius, a consulting manager for Cartus, a Danbury-based relocation firm formerly known as Cendant Mobility.

Domestic relocations encompass all moves within the United States and to and from Canada, Paskeviskius said.

According to a 2009 survey on domestic relocation policies by Cartus, founded 55 years ago, 94 percent of 179 U.S. firms said employees wanted to stay put to prevent losing money on their devalued homes.

"Real estate is a big concern," Paskeviskius said.

Arch Chemicals Inc., a Norwalk-based biocides company with 3,000 workers in North and South America, Europe, Asia and Africa that usually makes up the loss when a transferred takes a loss on a home, has asked some employees to work remotely as it waits for the housing market to improve.

"Right now, we're identifying people to move to other locations, but we're waiting until things get better," said Margaret Judge, Arch Chemicals' human resources manager. "Why force it unless you really have to?"

About 95 percent of its job candidates requiring relocation have been reluctant to do so for that reason, said Byron Peterson, vice president of human resources for Branson Ultrasonics Corp., a Danbury-based maker of plastic joining and ultrasonic metal welding equipment.

"The relocation service we use has told us they've been hit hard because they've seen less and less people accepting relocations," said Peterson, whose company has 1,800 employees at locations throughout North America, Asia and Europe. "People just don't want to move."

The survey by Cartus, now a division of publicly traded Realogy Corp., said that more than 75 percent of the companies cited an increase in employee resistance because of the economy, and 50 percent expect the challenge to increase over the next year in finding talented people willing to relocate.

Cartus offers several suggestions for companies to counter the resistance, such as helping employees with decorating allowances for their homes and tailoring relocation policies to address specific needs. Cartus also recommends that corporate relocation managers inform management of unavoidable expenditures, such as extended temporary living costs from longer selling times, and consider whether it is worth the money to relocate a given employee.

"We're working with clients to help them get through this and find solutions to the problem," Paskeviskius said, adding that Cartus helps its clients find short-term living situations for workers. "As a company, we know we'll make it through this storm with new ways to get to the other side."

Cartus has been able to offset the decline in domestic moves with an increase in international business, especially in the Asia-Pacific region, Paskeviskius said.

"India and China have been hot locations because the growth's there," she said.

Corporate relocation within the United States has declined by 15 to 30 percent over the past 18 months as companies and their workers shy away from making the move, said Ryan McConnell, senior director of sales development at Atlas Van Lanes in Evansville, Ind.

"It's a two-fold effect," he said. "You can't separate the bad economy from the housing market."

Atlas's international business has stayed level, but that is also expected to decrease as a result of the recession, he said.

"With the global economy, there may be a downturn there as well," he said.

Terex Corp., a Westport-based construction and mining equipment company that has seen its sales revenue drop from almost $2.4 billion for 2008's first quarter to $1.3 billion for the first quarter of 2009, has stopped moving any employees as it goes through downsizing, company spokesman Mike Bazinet said.

"We're certainly not doing any corporate relocations at this point because the construction business is down," he said. "There may be a rare exception, but at the moment this is just not happening."

Frontier Communications Corp., a Stamford-based telecommunications firm with locations in 24 states, has found there is less of a necessity to move its workers with the availability of video conferencing and other technologies, said Brigid Smith, the company's assistant vice president of communications.

"Families don't have to uproot themselves anymore because we've become a mobile society," she said, adding that some employees prefer not to relocate to the country's more expensive areas. "We have to be flexible and respect the family unit."