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San Joaquin Valley job gains outweighed mass layoffs in 2018. What will 2019 bring?

Amazon unveils its massive Fresno fulfillment center

Amazon officials gave a sneak peek tour of its new 855,000- square-foot innovative, customer fulfillment center, prior to its mid-2018 opening in Fresno. It features conveyor lines and robots that ferry merchandise to workers for processing.
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Amazon officials gave a sneak peek tour of its new 855,000- square-foot innovative, customer fulfillment center, prior to its mid-2018 opening in Fresno. It features conveyor lines and robots that ferry merchandise to workers for processing.

Employers across the greater San Joaquin Valley collectively laid off almost 7,600 workers because of plant or store closures or layoffs in 2018, and some companies already have plans to let go of nearly 600 more in the first few months of 2019.

But those losses were more than offset by significant gains in the overall numbers of people working throughout the year in all but one of the eight counties in the region. As of November, there were about 64,700 more people employed than at the start of the year, according to the state Employment Development Department.

In Fresno County, the largest numerical gain in year-over-year employment was in the construction industry, which was hammered by the 2007-09 recession after the mid-2000s housing bubble had burst. Over the course of the year, the sector added about 1,500 jobs, growing to 19,300 construction workers in November.

Those construction gains, however, were not uniformly seen across the rest of the region. Kings County, for example, was flat for the year, holding steady at 900 jobs to begin and end the year, while Kern County lost about 200 construction jobs.

But in the Stockton area and the rest of San Joaquin County, construction jobs grew from 11,900 to about 13,400 – a gain of 12.6 percent from a year earlier. More modest gains in construction were seen in Madera, Merced, Stanislaus and Tulare counties.

Even more gains were seen in the leisure/hospitality sector, where many restaurant, fast food and hotel housekeeping jobs are characterized by lower wages.

What’s not showing up yet in the EDD estimates are jobs at new distribution and e-commerce warehouses opened in Fresno last year by Ulta Beauty and Amazon. The transportation and warehousing sector only reflected a gain of 100 jobs between November 2017 to November 2018, but Amazon and Ulta together hired upwards of 2,000 employees to open their new facilities.

Outweighing the losses

The tens of thousands of jobs gained last year easily outweighed the pain of mass layoffs triggered by plant closures or force reductions up and down the Valley.

The largest single closure was at Seneca Foods in Modesto, where about 1,975 workers lost their jobs in September according to notices filed by the company with the state and local employment officials.

California’s Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act generally requires a company to notify the state, and its employees, at least 60 days prior to a plant closing or mass layoff. The state law covers employers with at least 75 full- or part-time employees, and includes business closures affecting any number of employees or layoffs of 50 or more workers.

Among permanent closures, the Seneca announcement was followed by the bankruptcy of Zacky Farms, which idled nearly 500 workers when it shut down its poultry processing plants in Fresno and Stockton.

Discount retailers Kmart and Sears, both owned by Sears Holdings, also had store closures in the latter half of 2018. Kmart closed stores in Clovis, Delano, Lemoore, Modesto and Visalia that resulted in 341 layoffs, while Sears closures in Modesto and Bakersfield put another 174 employees out of work.

There is likely to be more pain ahead in 2019. Treehouse Private Brands, which makes pretzels, announced last year that it was shutting down the production plant it owns in northwest Visalia. According to required notices provided to the state, about 243 workers will be affected by the closure, and production will be shifted to other Treehouse Foods facilities around the U.S.

Yosemite Meat Company in Modesto is expected to close by the end of this month, which will put about 188 people out of jobs. And in Stockton, the Masonite Corporation will lay off about 131 employees with the closure of a plant in mid-March.

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Lifelong Valley resident Tim Sheehan has worked in the Valley as a reporter and editor since 1986, and has been at The Bee since 1998. He is currently The Bee’s data reporter and covers California’s high-speed rail project and other transportation issues. He grew up in Madera, has a journalism degree from Fresno State and a master’s degree in leadership studies from Fresno Pacific University.


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