OKC Weathers High-Tech Job Cutbacks Well

Article excerpt

Back-to-back layoff announcements from Lucent Technologies and Seagate Technology have created the impression of an imploding high- tech market in the Oklahoma City area, but local analysts say that's not the case.

"That's unfortunately a part of a trend in Oklahoma over the last several months. There have been several large-scale layoffs in both Oklahoma City and Tulsa," said Bart Ward, dean of the Oklahoma City University Meinders School of Business. "The good news is it appears to me that those layoffs in Oklahoma City are usually in the three- digit range and nationally you can see a lot of layoffs in the five- digit range now."

"Oklahoma City is kind of on the backside of any kind of a slowdown in the economy -- and let's face it, the economy has slowed down -- so that's why these people are downsizing a little bit," said Richard Burpee, interim president and director of economic development at the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce. "It's really had very little impact on us."

Lucent, Oklahoma City's largest private employer, announced the elimination of 400 out of 4,000 positions at the company plant, which builds digital telephone switching offices and access transmission equipment for telephone companies. The company has an Oklahoma City payroll of $200 million.

Seagate has announced that more than 500 employees will lose their jobs or be transferred. The company employed 1,300 here before the announcement. Seagate's Oklahoma City division makes disk drives for everything from video games to servers.

Economic development officials have been waging a public relations war to attract high-paying, high-tech jobs to the area, with some success. In March, electronic equipment production accounted for 7,900 of 37,000 durable goods jobs in the six-county metro area, according to the Oklahoma Employment Securities Commission. Communications and utilities employed 13,700 during the same period. There were 545,800 total people employed in area non- farm positions in March.

Across the state, 13,400 were employed in the electronic equipment field, while 24,200 were employed in communications. There were 1,492,900 total non-farm jobs in Oklahoma in March.

Analysts said local layoffs are just a ripple effect of industry- wide changes that could be offset by other trends.

"I still think Oklahoma City is holding its own, relatively speaking, but those things are inevitable when the economy levels out," Ward said.

Dr. Robert Dauffenbach, director of the Center for Economic and Management Research at the University of Oklahoma, said the layoffs were "troubling events, certainly," but noted that the telecommunications industry is experiencing a global slump. However, he predicted a quick recovery for the industry.

Dauffenbach also said Lucent's decision to sell its plant to an electronic contract manufacturer is another national trend, and does not reflect on the state of Oklahoma's economy.

"I'm not too concerned," he said.

Lucent officials announced that the company has received several bids on its Oklahoma City plant. Officials hope to sell the plant by July 1, maintaining as many of its current positions as possible.

Ward said that bodes well for the future.

"Apparently, they have shined themselves up to the point where they feel they are finally marketable, which suggests that there's some long-term vitality in Oklahoma City for that plant," he said. …