One of the companys biggest customers goes with another supplier

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Owners of Glenn Walters Nursery, located on Northwest Roy Road in Cornelius, laid off a large percentage of the companys work crew last week.Glenn Walters Nursery of Cornelius laid off 118 workers — about 60 percent of its workforce — last Friday after learning it had been replaced as a supplier by its largest customer.

The nursery’s human resources director, Joyce O’Connell, notified City Manager Rob Drake and Mayor Jef Dalin of the layoffs in a letter dated Jan. 17, which stated they are expected to be permanent. However, she added that “we sincerely hope our business increases so we can rehire some or all of these good workers.”

Those let go include nine farm supervisors, five farm managers, an assistant production director, six tractor drivers and 45 farm workers.

The letter did not name the major customer the nursery lost, and O’Connell declined to comment to the News-Times about it.

“The business is located well outside Cornelius (at 7375 N.W. Roy Road),” said Drake, who noted that Walmart, Fred Meyer and Sheldon Manufacturing are the city’s largest employers. Still, he added, the mass layoff “will likely impact our retailers and even the schools losing students. These employees have our sympathy and concern.”

Families moving so parents can find employment is often a reason for dropping school enrollment in rural communities such as Cornelius.

Because company leaders acted quickly to pink-slip the workers, they were not able to provide them with 60 days’ notice of the pending layoffs, as required by the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act when a company conducts a massive layoff.

The layoffs come at a time when things are finally looking up for the nursery industry — Oregon’s number one agricultural commodity. Oregon is one of the nation’s top producers of nursery stock, second only to California, making $750 million in annual sales.

In 2007, Oregon nursery sales approached $1 billion — a watermark the industry had been steadily inching toward since the early 1990s. But with the economic downturn came a decline in building and, consequently, sales of nursery stock — especially bigger-ticket items such as trees.

Between 2009 and 2010, as many as 30 nursery operations in Washington County closed their doors.

The picture is a bit brighter today. “Most growers we’ve spoken to are very optimistic and they’re seeing more order activity,” said Curt Kipp of the Oregon Association of Nurseries. “Building activity is up and that’s a big part of our industry. Things fell and now they have to get better.”

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