Downturn costs Baker City jobs
“We’ve laid off 50 percent. We are down drastically,” said Clint Morrison, Behlen plant manager.
Prior to the layoffs that have taken place gradually over the past six months, Morrison said the plant in Baker City employed just under 100 people.
“It’s the economic downturn. It has affected sales of all of our products,” Morrison said, adding that the company’s primary products built at the Baker City plant include gates, panels and chutes and other products for the livestock industry and residential and commercial metal fencing and railings.
“The cattle industry is just a small part of our business. Our biggest market on the West Coast is the small hobby farms in California,” Morrison said.
The company also operates plants in Nebraska and Tennessee. However, Morrison said the Baker City plant has been hit the hardest.
Behlen’s layoffs accounted for more than three-fourths of the overall drop in manufacturing employment in Baker County, which dropped from 640 workers in November 2007 to 580 reported in November 2008.
However, those job losses don’t tell the whole story of what’s happening at the county’s 28 manufacturing businesses.
Jason Yohannan, regional economist with the Oregon Employment Department, said some manufacturers have added jobs, and the total number of manufacturing companies doing business in the county has actually increased from 24 in 2006 and 26 in 2007 to 28 in 2008, based on November figures for each year.
“Things got sharply worse the last few months of 2008,” Yohannan said, adding that economic conditions “turned worse much more quickly than in other downturns we’ve had in the past.”
Natural Structures, a Baker City manufacturer of water slides and play equipment for swimming pools, aquatic centers, parks, golf courses and fast food restaurants is one of the bright spots.
“We are in a growth stage,” said Ted Hausotter, Natural Structures owner. “In the last 30 days we are up 10 people.”
“I’ve got the biggest backlog of orders we’ve had in a long time, maybe ever,” Hausotter said, adding that some of the recently hired staff will be working on a big new order for a famous golf course.
“I am not at liberty to say which course, but it’s one everyone watches on TV,” Hausotter said.
He’s also expecting a surge in orders once Congress passes the infrastructure stimulus package sought by President Barack Obama to boost employment around the country.
Hausotter attributes his company’s growth to a nationwide demand for affordable high-quality equipment manufactured at the Baker City plant with superior welding techniques and his employees’ skill and careful attention to detail.
Hausotter started in business in 1973 in Western Oregon but due to regulatory and land-use issues opted to move to Baker City with five key employees and hired 10 local workers to open the plant here.
With the recent addition of 10 new employees, he said total employment is around 60.
Other manufacturers in Baker County have reported a range from steady employment to layoffs or reduced production hours.
At Marvin Wood Products, John Kirchner, corporate public relations manager, said the work week has been reduced from 40 to 32 hours at the plant in Baker City, but that reduction is not uncommon for this time of year when winter weather brings new construction to a near standstill in many areas of the country.
“I can tell you we haven’t had any layoffs, and none are planned,” Kirchner said, “but in order to avoid layoffs we have cut back on hours.”
Depending on how long the national economic slump and sagging housing market continue, Kirchner said Marvin Wood Products might wind up extending the shortened work week longer this spring than during previous seasonal slowdowns.
“I think it is important to note that Marvin, being a family owned and operated company, is highly committed to our employees, and to the communities where our plants are located,” Kirchner said.
He said the plant in Baker City employs 194 people who manufacture wood components used to make windows assembled at the Marvin Woods plants in Minnesota and North Dakota, as well as patio doors made at the company’s plant in Tennessee.
“The market is just slower than we’d like,” Kirchner said. “We look forward to when it warms up and construction gets going again.”
At Oregon Trail Bullet Co., owner Karen Combs said sales are up, due to some concerns that Obama and the Democratic majority in Congress might pass legislation imposing tighter restrictions or bans on some gun and ammunition sales.
“A lot of gun bills have been introduced in the Senate. I think that contributes to what we are seeing with gun and ammunition sales,” Combs said. “A lot of people are stocking up, just in case. They don’t want to run out of bullets.
“There’s a big demand right now for bullets, primers and brass — anything gun related,” said Combs, who along with her husband, Brian, purchased Oregon Trail Bullet Co. in 2002, after working for the company for several years.
The company typically employs 10 to 12 people, including a couple of part-time workers. Combs said current employment is at 12.
Because the company manufactures a superior quality composite lead bullet that’s harder and leaves less lead in gun barrels when fired, Combs said it is in big demand and is shipped to all 50 states.
Compared to Baker County’s 9-percent drop in manufacturing jobs from November 2007 to November 2008, Yohannan said Oregon posted a 7-percent decline in manufacturing jobs statewide, falling from 203,900 to 189,000. Nationwide, manufacturing employment dropped 5 percent from 13,806,000 to 13,168,000 during the same period.
Yohannan said county surveys for December 2008 manufacturing and other employment categories will be released Jan. 26, and a year-end review of actual employment statistics for counties, states and the nation will be published in February.
Nationwide, Yohannan said, manufacturing jobs have declined for 10 consecutive years, while Oregon and Baker County held steady and actually increased manufacturing jobs up through the first two quarters of 2008, when the recession hit home.
In Oregon and Baker County, manufacturing employment had been going up for 10 years before it started going down in the final months of 2008, Yohannan said.
He said declines in U.S. auto production led the nationwide decline in manufacturing jobs in 2008 and over the past decade, while Oregon gained manufacturing jobs in high-tech and RV, truck, boat and airplane manufacturing jobs for a decade before the bottom fell out of those markets in 2008.