Glenn Walters Nursery of Cornelius laid off 118 workers — about 60 percent of its work force — 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 Jan. 17 letter, 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. 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.

The letter did not name the major customer the nursery lost.

“The business is located well outside Cornelius,” said Drake. 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.

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.

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.”

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