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Ventura County sheds 500 jobs in 15 days

By   /   Friday, February 20th, 2009  /   Comments Off on Ventura County sheds 500 jobs in 15 days

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A wave of job cuts has hit Ventura County this month, sweeping away nearly 500 positions – and possibly more.

Some of the reductions are fallout from the acquisition of crippled lender Countrywide Financial by Bank of America. Other cuts stem from the global downturn in manufacturing, and yet still others have come in relatively healthy industries such as biotechnology and solar power.

The cuts follow a disastrous December and January in which more than 700 jobs were lost, according to state records. And the worst is yet to come, said Dan Hamilton, director of economics for the University of California, Santa Barbara, Economic Forecast Project.

The forecast project predicts Ventura County employment will bottom out sometime in 2010 and won’t grow again until 2012.

The county’s large number of national and international players makes it more susceptible to economic currents than the rest of the Tri-Counties, Hamilton said. Of the 6,275 Ventura County jobs lost in 2008, Hamilton said, only 133 were public-sector jobs.

“In good times, they make the county better than average,” Hamilton said. “There were a number of years where it was stronger than Santa Barbara or San Luis Obispo counties. Now it’s on the downside.”

The forecast project expects private sector employment to fall 3.6 percent in 2009 and 1.6 percent in 2010. Public jobs will drop 1.8 percent and 2.2 percent, respectively, for 2009 and 2010.

The most recent cutbacks have come at Haas Automation in Camarillo, Amgen in Thousand Oaks, SolarWorld Industries in Camarillo, Westoaks Chrysler-Dodge in Thousand Oaks, Power-One in Camarillo and Bank of America in Simi Valley.

Oxnard-based Haas Automation on Feb. 11 told 200 workers they will be laid off, the company’s second round of cuts this year.

Haas Automation makes machine tools and employed more than 1,500 people in Oxnard before a first round of cuts in January shed 200 temporary workers. In a news release, General Manger Robert Murray said the most recent cut of 200 more workers was necessary because machine tool orders were down 62 percent compared with last January.

“This is an extremely difficult decision, but one that is absolutely necessary if Haas Automation is to remain competitive in the current machine tool market,” Murray said in the release. “We are seeing what appears to be the steepest decline in global machine tool demand in history.”

The release said employees will get full pay and benefits for 60 days, plus separation pay and help finding new work. Haas Automation spokesman Scott Rathburn said the company couldn’t comment beyond its news release.

Thousand Oaks-based Amgen is cutting 145 jobs as part of a move to contract out its facilities management and streamline its engineering department, company spokeswoman Sarah Rockwell told the Business Times.

The move will affect all 11 of Amgen’s North American sites, but the headcount reduction will happen “primarily at the Thousand Oaks headquarters,” Rockwell said. “All impacted staff will have the opportunity to apply with the new sourcing provider, Jones Lang LaSalle.”

The latest reduction follows a cut of 64 jobs when the company contracted out information technology positions earlier this year. The newest round comes despite the company’s strong performance – investors see it as recession-proof because of its connections to health-care spending – and has been in the works for some time.

“It’s part of a strategic review that’s been going on for more than a year now” that’s focused on making the company more efficient, Rockwell said.

Westoaks Chrysler-Dodge in Thousand Oaks laid off 35 employees Feb. 13 as its parent, Los Angeles-based Rusnak Auto Group, transitioned the location just off Highway 101 to a used car store.

The cuts follow rapid expansion by Rusnak Auto Group in Ventura County. It bought the Westoaks location in April 2008 and earlier this year put the finishing touches on a BMW dealership in the Thousand Oaks Auto Mall.

Tom Valasek, marketing director for Rusnak Auto Group, said the company wanted to get rid of its only franchise agreements with Chrysler and Dodge and take advantage of what it sees as a growing opportunity in the used car market.

At its high-end dealerships, the company grew its factory-certified, pre-owned sales during one of the toughest years in decades for auto dealers, Valasek said.

“During an economy like this, people are looking to be as cost-efficient as they can be. We’re seeing demand growing, and we’re expanding in this location for pre-owned. It’s a great location, right of the 101,” Valasek said. “It’s going to be a great complement for our new car franchises.”

The Westoaks location had 55 employees, Valasek said, and Rusnak kept 20 aboard for the new operation. Valasek said the other 35 employees were told their jobs had been eliminated at the Thousand Oaks location but were given the chance to apply for other positions within the company, which has about 700 employees and 13 other dealerships.

“We’re trying very hard to relocate and redeploy as many people as possible,” Valasek said.

SolarWorld group, which maintains a solar panel plant in Camarillo, told state officials it plans to cut 53 jobs.

Spokeswoman Anne Schneider said the layoffs weren’t related to economic crisis – the company just posted 30 percent year-over-year sales growth – but instead stemmed from a $30 million upgrade to mechanize the plant and move some operations to Oregon.

“As technology makes progress, we transferred as many people as we could from the cell and wafering departments [in Camarillo] over to moduling,” Schneider said. “Some people went to Oregon. Unfortunately, for 53 people, we couldn’t find something.”

The Camarillo plant still employs 200. The company is still hiring engineers for its Camarillo location, which — in addition to making solar modules — also handles the company’s U.S. distribution, Schneider said.

In fallout from its acquisition of crippled mortgage lender Countrywide Financial last year, Bank of America told state regulators it plans to cut 50 jobs in Simi Valley.

“They’re part of the 7,500 [job cuts] that were previously announced [when Bank of America acquired Countrywide],” said Bank of America spokeswoman Jumana Bauwens. “We have a very large presence in Simi Valley.”

Bauwens couldn’t say exactly how many Bank of America employs in Simi Valley and declined to predict whether any more cuts will come at the location.

Camarillo-based power supply maker Power-One said Feb. 5 that it’s slashing about 1,000 jobs, or 22 percent of its global workforce, in what it called “aggressive cost-reduction actions in response to ongoing demand uncertainty.”

Chief Financial Officer Linda Heller didn’t return multiple phone messages and e-mails asking how many jobs, if any, would be eliminated in Ventura County. Power-One said it expects to incur about $1.3 million in costs from the cuts.

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