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1,000 area jobs in peril

By   /   Friday, September 9th, 2011  /   3 Comments

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By Stephen Nellis and Marlize van Romburgh on September 9, 2011

Nearly 1,000 jobs are either at risk or being cut in the Tri-Counties in manufacturing, medical device research and finance.

On Sept. 1, Bank of America said it planned to sell or shutter its correspondent lending arm, imperiling as many as 700 jobs in Ventura County. The next day, Camarillo-based renewable energy firm SolarWorld Industries America and Santa Barbara-based breast implant maker Mentor Worldwide confirmed layoffs that could affect 260 positions, with Ventura County in particular losing 186 jobs.

“It’s just another blow to a county that’s doing a lot better than the state but still doing far worse than the nation,” said Bill Watkins, head of the Center for Economic Research and Forecasting at California Lutheran University. “Ventura County and the Central Coast in general are just losing these middle class jobs and the families that they support.”

Here is a closer look at each round of job cuts.

Beauty and sun

On Sept. 2, SolarWorld Industries America, the U.S. subsidiary of a major German maker of solar energy systems, said it is shuttering production at its Camarillo plant and cutting 186 jobs. Mentor Worldwide, a Santa Barbara-based breast implant maker that was acquired by Johnson & Johnson in 2009, also confirmed layoffs but declined to provide an exact figure. A person familiar with the company told the Business Times about 75 jobs were affected.

Ben Santarris, head of corporate communications at SolarWorld, said the Camarillo facility employs about 300 people. The 186 workers being let go will receive paychecks until late October, he said.

Manufacturing is being shifted to the company’s Hillsboro, Ore., factory while sales, marketing and customer service positions will be housed in Camarillo. Those operations may expand, Santarris said.

“This is a process of specialization in two different locations,” Santarris told the Business Times on Sept. 2.

The decision to shutter Camarillo’s production line came after SolarWorld bought the plant in 2006 and invested heavily in modernizing its equipment. Even after the upgrade, SolarWorld’s planners found it would be more efficient to manufacture at its larger factory in Oregon.

“It’s more an issue of scale. We have a much bigger footprint here. … The cost structure is lower,” Santarris said. “The whole industry has an ever-rising tide of production from state-sponsored export companies from China that are swamping the industry worldwide.”

The outflow of California manufacturing jobs is nothing new, said Watkins, the economist. While Oregon has relatively high personal income taxes and robust environmental regulation, Watkins said, it has a divided legislature and moderate governor who have worked together to effectively lure businesses. Watkins said business may be placing a premium on predictability and stability from state governments. “Delay and uncertainty are huge,” Watkins said.

At Mentor, Christopher Allman, spokesman for the company, confirmed there had been companywide cuts but declined to say how many positions in Santa Barbara were affected. Before its buyout by Johnson & Johnson, Mentor was the third-largest publicly traded firm in the Tri-Counties with a market capitalization of more than $1 billion.

“The decision was difficult, but necessary, given the current economic challenges and the impact they have had on demand for elective aesthetic procedures,” Allman said in a statement. “We appreciate the contributions our associates have made to our company and the patients we serve. We will make every effort to help these employees with outplacement assistance and services.”

The cuts come a day after the Los Angeles Times reported that 700 Bank of America jobs could be at risk in Ventura County.

700 BofA jobs at stake

About 700 jobs in Thousand Oaks and Westlake Village are in peril as Bank of America prepares to sell or wind down the correspondent lending arm of its mortgage business.

“We intend to sell the correspondent mortgage lending division or, if a suitable deal is not identified, we will consider other options, including winding down the correspondent lending business in an orderly manner,” Bank of America spokesman Rick Simon said in a statement emailed to the Business Times on Sept. 1. “At this time, our correspondent lending operations continue business as usual.”

Simon said talks of potential layoffs are “premature,” but that if a sale occurs, it will be “managed with a focus on minimizing impact to clients and associates.”

The potential jobs cuts come as the beleaguered bank, the successor to Calabasas-based Countrywide Financial Corp., tries to stem massive losses on home loans and focus on core operations.

Simon said the firm does not break employee numbers down by location but that the correspondent lending division employs about 1,200 people total. The Los Angeles Times reported that the correspondent unit — which deals with home loans originated by third-party firms — employs about 450 people in Westlake Village and 250 in Thousand Oaks.

Not counting its home loan branches, Bank of America has offices in one building in Thousand Oaks and two in Westlake Village, as well as a larger campus in Simi Valley, he said.

“Correspondent lending has a relatively small footprint compared to the overall associate population in Ventura County,” Simon said.

Bank of America has declined repeated Business Times requests over the last two years for its Ventura County employee count, but as of 2009 the firm employed about 3,800 people in the county. If the count has stayed in that range, Bank of America remains Ventura County’s second-largest private employer.

Watkins said Bank of America no longer provides his researchers with employment figures. But he noted that those laid off in the Tri-Counties are unlikely to remain in the region unless they find new work quickly. “A significant number of them will be leaving California and Ventura County forever,” Watkins said.

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About the author

Managing Editor

Marlize van Romburgh covers banking, finance, agricultural and viticulture. She writes a weekly column on commercial real estate and a monthly column on the restaurant industry. Follow her at @marlizevr

3 Comments

  1. Jeff says:

    I wish readers would listen to what decision makers at these companies said were the reasons for the layoffs and relocation. It was all about globalization and productivity, not Sacramento politics. Think what you like about politics and climate change, but playing the blame game without offering any solutions is a waste of time and worse, is a distraction from a meaningful discussion of solutions.

  2. Kent says:

    Hey, at least the air is clean…right, California? “You’ve” been so worried about the environment that oops, you drove all those good logistics and trucking jobs right out of town. Got a trailer with 3 axles? Get out of here! We don’t need you are around here (quote circa 1997). Jobs just keep on leavin’. But, uh, yeah, the air sure is clean! The 47 people rich enough to live here sure will appreciate it.

  3. Scott D. says:

    Hey California elected “leadership” on BOTH sides of the aisle…the employment base of this formerly great state are voting with their moving vans and their wallets and getting out at a faster and faster pace…
    Your well-intentioned but ultimately misguided “feel good” policies are KILLING this formerly great state, and companies are getting out while they can….
    Bill Watkins’ closing statement is prophetic and I concur with the companies – it’s time to get out while WE still can, which is a SAD and PATHETIC indictment of the promise that this state once enjoyed.

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