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Laid-off techies won’t go away

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Thursday, January 01, 2009

PORTLAND In the final five months of 2008, somewhere between 2,000 and 2,400 workers in Silicon Forest lost their jobs. In some cases, companies such as Hynix Semiconductor and Hewlett-Packard shut down entire manufacturing facilities; in other cases, companies ranging from large — Lattice Semiconductor and Yahoo — to tiny — Iterasi — pared down their workforce in anticipation of a long-term economic drought.

The lost jobs represent only a fraction of Oregon’s total workforce. But they’re part of a significant downward trend in one of the state’s valued economic clusters. For example, year-to-date figures from October show an almost 8% drop in jobs in the computer and electronic manufacturing industry.

According to anecdotal accounts, those laid-off workers are taking different paths to re-employment. Some are switching industries; others are waiting for jobs in the tech cluster to reopen. One thing they’re not doing is leaving Oregon.

In October, Portland Community College’s workforce development program saw 12 tech workers get rehired at both small and large Silicon Forest companies; others left the industry altogether and were hired by banks. The program’s director, Jackie Sandquist, says they’re watching a wide range of companies, from hospitals to athletic clubs, for possible tech-related jobs.

Some workers who want to stay in tech are trying to use this time as a chance to jump on what they hope is the next big thing. “Everyone is very interested in clean tech,” says Nancy King, owner of the Portland executive recruitment firm Nancy King Search. “You want to be able to grow with the next growth industry.”

Neither Sandquist, King or Harvey Mathews, director of the Software Association of Oregon, see workers leaving the state. Historically, they say, tech workers have been willing to make fiscal and career sacrifices in order to stay. “There’s not a lot of rose-colored glasses on,” says Mathews. “They know 2009 is going to be tough but they’re going to find a way to get through it.”                   


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