The Standard-Examiner in Ogden laid off eight employees and announced plans to furlough all others. Nordstrom eliminated 12 jobs. Coopers & Lybrand laid off four employees.
That's naming just a few Utah companies that have recently shown small groups of employees the door in an effort to cut costs.Do the layoffs offer evidence that Utah's economy is slowing or proof of a more calloused corporate attitude toward people?
Both, local analysts said.
Utah's Job Service does not track scattered layoffs, said Ken Jensen, labor market economist for the Utah Job Service. He had no idea how common it is for Utah companies to lay off several employees as a quick cost-cutting measure.
But OCM, a Salt Lake human resource consulting firm, said the practice has grown rapidly among Utah companies in recent years.
"It would almost be easier to tell you who isn't doing it," said Dave Hilbig, a partner in OCM.
"I think layoffs are becoming more the norm," Hilbig said. "Companies used to be hesitant to lay off employees to save money. They don't seem quite as hesitant to do that anymore."
The practice of freely laying off employees to cut corporate costs began spreading among major U.S. companies a few years ago, said Jeff Thredgold, senior vice president and chief economist for KeyCorp.
"The total work force of the Fortune 500 companies is down substantially from what it was five or 10 years ago," he noted.
While intense competition and the need to cut costs spawned the layoff practice, recent events aggravated its growth.
Hilbig attributes the recent spate of layoffs to "a combination of several things: the energy crisis, belt tightening, uncertainty in the Middle East and the drop in the stock market."
And, of course, the prospect of a recession. The national move toward a recessive economy resulted in the Nordstrom layoffs. As the economy slowed, consumers stopped spending. Bob Middlemas, regional director of the Utah Nordstrom, said the layoffs had nothing to do with slow sales.
"This is not something we are doing because of tough business," he said, calling the recent anniversary sale "the best ever" for the Utah Nordstrom.
But the Orange County Register reported that Nordstrom Inc. has ordered cost reductions of up to 12 percent at its 57 stores because of sluggish sales and a disappointing anniversary promotion in July and August.
The cost-cutting measures include layoffs and reductions in employees' hours, the Register reported.
"We are looking at every position and every level and saying, `OK, let's make sure we are as lean and mean as possible,' " Middlemas said.
Middlemas said the dozen employees have been offered jobs elsewhere in the company. "We haven't put anyone out on the street yet."
While the state doesn't measure small layoffs by Utah companies, Utah Job Service reports that the applications for unemployment insurance have not risen in recent weeks. "They are running parallel to last year for the same time period," Jensen said.
Economists for First Security and KeyCorp dismiss scattered layoffs as unimportant in Utah's larger economic picture. "Minimal layoffs here are not a big deal," Thredgold said. He stressed that Utah has 30,000 more people working today than it did 12 months ago.
But he acknowledged that scattered layoffs in the state provide further indication that the rapid economic growth Utah has seen in the past 18 months may be slowing.
Despite the slowing, Utah's economy remains way ahead of the national economy as a whole.
"Where in the last 18 months the Utah economy has been going down the road at 60 miles an hour, it may slow to 35 miles an hour, but the total national economy is basically parked on the freeway," Thredgold said.
While Utah companies hand out a fistful of pink slips, eastern companies truck the pink paper in. Thredgold said companies in the East are regularly announcing the layoffs of hundreds and thousands of employees.
Thredgold said, "We are players on a bigger market and still subject to the same emotions and concerns as the rest of the nation," he said. "The fact that the national economy is on the verge of a recession and the Middle East hostilities have raised the level of uncertainty would suggest a less robust performance by Utah's economy."