Wells Fargo plans layoffs at its Fort Mill center

Wells Fargo & Co. will lay off workers at its mortgage center in Fort Mill, the bank confirmed to the Observer on Tuesday.

The mortgage center has about 1,600 employees. Spokeswoman Debora Blume said that “a small number” of employees in centralized sales and fulfillment, which is separate from the servicing unit, were laid off, but the bank declined to disclose a specific number because it hopes to rehire some workers into other positions. Affected employees have already received a 60-day notice and may be eligible for severance packages.

Wells Fargo plans to buy Charlotte's Wachovia Corp. in December, and though the Wells Fargo bank has fared better than most of its peers amid the housing meltdown, it's not immune. Wells' mortgage applications in the third quarter fell 13 percent over the year-ago period, and mortgage originations also declined. Spokeswoman Melissa Murray said that Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, which includes the division in Fort Mill, is adjusting staffing levels “to reflect the reality of the market.”

“Wells Fargo is implementing steps to respond to business conditions, manage expenses and reduce fixed costs,” Murray said.

Murray emphasized that laid-off workers would be considered for other positions within the company, a point that Wells chief executive John Stumpf hit on during a visit with Wachovia employees three weeks ago. Speaking at Wachovia headquarters in uptown Charlotte, Stumpf said Wells uses a strategy called “retain and retrain,” meaning it would try to move workers whose jobs might be eliminated into different positions.

“As we move forward, my job will be to help all of you stay with the company,” Stumpf said. “Obviously, no commitments, no promises, but that's my goal.”

Wells Fargo does not have any bank branches in the Carolinas or elsewhere on the East Coast. But it does have a presence here through other divisions. Wells, the country's second-largest originator and servicer of mortgages, has about 45 Home Mortgage stores in the Carolinas. It also has 30 Wells Fargo Financial stores, which offer auto financing, credit cards and other types of lending.

Wells has about 600 employees in North Carolina and 1,900 in South Carolina, the bulk of them in Fort Mill.