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Hard times for the big boys

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Ben Jacklet
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
For more than 30 years, Oregon Business has ranked the state’s top 150 private companies by revenue. This year’s results are in, and they are not encouraging. 2009 was one of the worst years ever for the state’s most important private sector employers — if not the worst.

With a few exceptions, the companies that top the Private 150 generally range in age from 50 to 100 years old and specialize in natural resources, building or retail/distribution. They employ thousands of Oregonians, and they have suffered through a brutal two and a half years of recession.

The vast majority of Oregon’s top privately held businesses lost jobs last year. Hoffman Construction, the Portland-based powerhouse that topped $1 billion in revenue in 2008, fell back below the billion-dollar mark and cut 275 jobs. The McMinnville-based aviation giant Evergreen Holdings shaved 570 jobs from its complex global network of operations. Glendale-based lumber producer Swanson Group & Affiliates eliminated 490 jobs, all of them in Oregon.

What makes these losses all the more devastating is the fact that private sector jobs were already down last year — way down. Most of the major employers that managed to avoid layoffs in 2009 had already made significant cuts in 2008, when Jeld-Wen shaved 500, Ron Tonkin dropped 214, Les Schwab cut 206 and Roseburg Forest Products laid off 200.

It takes some searching to find any job increases at all among this year’s top 150. But there are a few. Reser’s Fine Foods, the Beaverton-based processor of famous potato salads and salsas, grew from 2,100 employees to 2,300. Vigor Industrial, the Frank Foti-led conglomerate which runs the Portland Shipyard, expanded from 500 jobs to 700.

And while the Portland-based IT security business Tripwire did not report any job gains, it has reported that it plans to go public, breaking Oregon’s IPO drought along with Erickson Air-Crane. With luck a fresh influx of money will enable Tripwire and Erickson to expand and create jobs both inside and outside of their organizations, and with more luck that trend will spread over time. But it will take a long time and a lot of work to compensate for all that has been lost over the past two and a half years.

Ben Jacklet is managing editor at Oregon Business.
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