Apr 192005
Authors: James Baetke

Layoffs have continued in the high-tech industry, sending hundreds of Fort Collins residents looking for new jobs.

Celestica Inc., a Toronto-based electronics plant, recently announced it would be closing its Fort Collins facility, ultimately sending 800 local employees looking for new jobs within the year. Company representatives said the plant closure had nothing to do with the city; it was part of a larger international structural change.

Celestica spokesperson Lisa Muenkel said the company is going through a global-wide plan to try and "level lower cost geographics." By this, Muenkel said local and global Celestica facilities that are not yielding a satisfactory cost-to-profit ratio might need to be shut down.

"This is part of our global restructuring plan," Muenkel said.

However, Diane Jones, Fort Collins deputy city manager, remains hopeful that Fort Collins will continue to thrive.

"We have always tried to have good city services that will support a healthy business climate," Jones said.

Jones, who has worked for the city since 1990, credits the City Council and the community in the last few years for keeping Fort Collins' economy in the limelight as a "key issue."

David May, president of the Area Chamber of Commerce, sees Fort Collins as a " desirable place to live and do business," but he doesn't quite agree with Jones's assessment.

"The city of Fort Collins itself has not been very engaged in economic development, which is one of the problems. However, that appears to be changing," May said. " Mayor-elect Doug Hutchison has made jobs a big part of his administration; so expect things to change."

The layoffs at Celestica were part of a "very complicated, multifaceted" process, Muenkel said. Celestica is a top electronics manufacturing company and makes computer motherboards for companies such as Hewlett-Packard, she said.

Muenkel could not say whether the displaced jobs in Fort Collins will be outsourced, but she said it is possible that some of them may be sent overseas.

"The impact of a company outsourcing to Singapore can be felt locally, now," said Lew Wymisner, assistant director for the Larimer County Workforce Center.

Wymisner said most of the recent layoffs are incremental and will not show up in statistics, such as the city's unemployment rate.

Wymisner has seen all the ebbs and flows of the city's economy since the start of his employment at workforce center 27 years ago. Citing businesses such as CSU and the city's various brewing companies, Wymisner said the city is diverse enough to sustain blows if one industry is hit hard with tough times.

"For the past 25 years (Fort Collins) has had a diverse economic base," Wymisner said.

On Wednesday, Eastman Kodak announced that its facility in Windsor will grant voluntary severance packages to an expected 110 employees who will leave or retire, forcing Eastman Kodak to fire 20 to 30 other employees to fulfill the company's quota needs by the end of the year in what is considered an "involuntary separation."

"In our case, it is part of a worldwide strategy. It is part of our transformation into digital business," said Lucille Mantelli, director of communications for Eastman Kodak's Colorado Division.

Mantelli said the downsizing has nothing to do with Northern Colorado's business climate.

Other high-tech Fort Collins companies have had employment loss as well. Last year, Advanced Energy, Agilent Technologies and LSI Logic had laid-off employees.

Some local experts/economists say these layoffs are part of a global trend of dismissing employees in the semiconductor and other high-tech machinery industries. Others, such as Wymisner, believe city governments have little control over a city's economy.

"I do not think government has as much impact on the economy as people think," Wymisner said.

The marketplace is king and is one of the major contributors to how an economy pans out over time, Wymisner said. Even though the local government cannot shift an economy one way or another, Wymisner said the city as a whole has a lot of things going for it, such as the drive for small businesses.

"Our backbone in Fort Collins are businesses with less than 20 employees," Wymisner said.

Jacob Castillo, director of business retention and expansion for the Northern Colorado Economic Development Corporation, said Fort Collins is not just a regional hub; it also must compete with national and global competition.

Castillo believes the city has done an adequate job drawing businesses to Fort Collins and keeping them here, as well.

The economic development corporation, a nonprofit group, works closely with businesses that generate local business, but also export a portion of their goods or services outside the city.

"It is important to stay competitive, but you don't want to give away the farm," Castillo said, referring to Fort Collins staying on top of state, national and global challenges.

As for the future of Fort Collins, Castillo sees the city working even closer with municipalities such as Windsor and Loveland to support a stronger regional workforce and economy.

"In 10 years we will have worked through the current shakeout. We will see more of an emphasis on the design instead of the manufacturing end of high-tech. CSU will be operating with a new financial model," Castillo said.

May agreed with Castillo that Fort Collins will be able to withstand the current job cuts.

"The biotech sector will be coming into its own along the entire Front Range including Fort Collins," May said. "Fort Collins will continue to be a major retail trade center … retirement will grow as the baby boom generation begins to retire and look for great and interesting places to live."

Scott Houser, a special associate professor in the CSU Department of Economics, believes it is difficult to measure a region's economic vitality because there are different points of view and relativity involved. Based on unemployment and quality of life, Houser believes Fort Collins is above average.

"The economy is Northern Colorado is in better shape than the rest of the country," Houser said.

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