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KALISPELL - Layoffs at Stream International could mean the company will fall short of employment targets established in 2000, when community leaders gave Stream $4 million in incentives to locate in Kalispell.

"It sounds like it will be close," said Kalispell City Manager Chris Kukulski. "I don't know yet if this will put it over the line."

The line is a minimum of 500 jobs, which Stream promised to provide - along with wage limits and other obligations - in return for the incentive package. That package was cobbled together by many, drawing on tax dollars, grants, private donations and the county's economic development agency.

Since then, Kukulski said, Stream has always exceeded the job number requirement, often by as much as 30 percent and at times by as much as twofold. That meant the company enjoyed free rent at Gateway West Mall. (Technically, the company paid rent, but the city then reimbursed the company for its investment in the city-owned building. The result was a wash - the checks passed each other in the mail and no one owed anyone anything.)

If Stream's Tuesday announcement of 245 layoffs (Stream now employs about 700) puts the company below the 500 mark, the city will cut back its reimbursement. Essentially, Stream will begin paying rent.

"I talked with them Tuesday," Kukulski said, "and indications are this layoff will put employment right around 500. Maybe a little bit more, maybe a little bit less, but right around the 500 mark."

Next month, he said, the city will conduct its annual audit of Stream's obligations, "and we'll know then just where the numbers fall."

Kukulski said he was by no means pleased with the loss of 245 jobs in Kalispell, but he emphasized that Stream has exceeded the contract's requirements for years, and the layoffs in no way indicate the company is not committed to fulfilling all its obligations.

"In these tough economic times," he said, "they might fall below the requirements. But we have a mechanism in place to deal with that. The agreement is pretty explicit."

The company, which provides telephone technical support centers for computer owners, cited a flagging computer and manufacturing sector when announcing the layoffs.

Those laid off have been given a 60-day heads up, during which time paychecks and benefits will continue.

Revenue at Stream's parent company is off 10 percent this year, with stock trading at about $3 per share. Last year at this time, stock traded at more than $8.

Reporter Michael Jamison can be reached at 1-800-366-7186 or at mjamison@missoulian.com.

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