The headlines are fickle, at best. Unemployment is down this month, up last month; the economy is rising, diving, sustaining. But statistics don’t help pay the bills, they just help reporters fill stories and put politicians in office or back on the streets from whence they came.
Trends, on the other hand, are far more tangible. Beginning this past summer, the trend of major Ventura County companies leaving the state and laying off scores of employees in their wake — or significantly reducing their work forces as in the case of Amgen laying off 226 people this past week — has been a black mark for city governments and gut wrenching for those laid off.
It began in June, when Affinity Group, a major employer in the city of Ventura, put its headquarters up for sale, which also equated to massive employee layoffs. According to figures provided by Chief Executive Officer Marcus Lemonis, more than half the workforce was dismissed from the Ventura location. Approximately 70 employees will remain in the accounting, directories and rallies and events departments. The other functions of the company were moved or reassigned to the offices in Denver, Minneapolis and Bowling Green, Ky., according to Lemonis, who declined to comment any further. The former Affinity site off of Vista Del Mar Avenue is now in escrow with Somera Capital Management, a Santa Barbara-based boutique real estate investment firm, according to Nick Gregg, office and industrial specialist with CB Richard Ellis. Gregg, who marketed the building, said the asking price was $9.7 million, but couldn’t disclose the contract price until the deal closes. The site includes a 72,000-square-foot office building on 9.3 acres.
The Affinity Group departure marks the biggest corporation to leave Ventura since Kinko’s moved its corporate headquarters to Texas in 2002.
“You can blame Sacramento, but this is a costly part of the country to do business in,” said Ventura City Manager Rick Cole. “We are not in position to give the kind of incentives that a place in rural Mississippi or suburban Kentucky or Nevada can offer, because of state laws.”
In late August, 186 employees at SolarWorld Industries America in Camarillo were laid off. The largest domestic producer of solar panels announced it would be shifting production to its new facility in Hillsboro, Ore. The sales and marketing functions of the company would remain in Camarillo, about 114 employees.
“Still waiting for the smoke to clear,” said John Fraser, city of Camarillo’s senior management analyst. “It was terrible news for us and worse news for people being laid off.”
But as Camarillo awaited clear skies, two more major employers stormed out of town. Vitesse Semiconductor issued pink slips on Oct. 3 and announced it would shutter one of its Camarillo facilities. The company laid off 10 percent of its 467 employees, though its headquarters will still remain in Camarillo. Channel Microwave, which started in
Camarillo 25 years ago, is going to lay off 36 of its 50 employees and the manufacturing sector is being transferred to Tampa, according to Camarillo’s Sept. 30 Economic Development Report.
All is far from being lost, however, in the economic tides. Fraser said the city is on the verge of welcoming a company that will bring 300 jobs, but could not comment further on the deal. Camarillo is also host to emerging green and biotech businesses like carbon-fuel producer Cool Planet BioFuels and PBS Biotech, creating lines of disposable bioreactors, which began as a startup from a $250,000 loan from the Economic Development Collaborative-Ventura County. The company now has 20 employees.
In Ventura, the strategy, according to Cole, is “to make it easy on existing Ventura businesses to grow and expand, and for entrepreneurs to launch companies.” In January 2010, the city launched an “incubator” to foster and attract high-tech companies to the city. The incubator now houses 17 startups, according to Cole.
“Not all are going to grow up and become Microsoft,” he said. “But these weren’t in existence before we started.” One of the companies in the incubator, The Trade Desk, an online advertising ad exchange, now boasts 15 employees.