Clovis News

3 Valley companies have cut jobs or may trim positions later

A telemarketing firm is folding up shop in Fresno, idling nearly 100 workers. The maker of Twinkies and other snacks may lay off 68 workers in Fresno, Merced and Tulare as it works through bankruptcy. And a social-service agency that provides early-childhood education in Fresno and Madera counties has let go 134 workers as the state wrestles with its budget.

The shadow cast by layoffs comes as Fresno County and the central San Joaquin Valley continue to experience higher unemployment than the state or national average. The state Employment Development Department estimated that Fresno County's jobless rate was 14.9% in May, compared to California's statewide rate of 10.8% or the national rate of 8.2%.

Secure Customer Relations, a company that does telephone marketing for the insurance industry, is relocating its entire operation to Provo, Utah, enticed by "lower costs pretty much across the board," president and CEO Carter Buck said.

The company has operated in Fresno for about seven years, Buck said. "But it became apparent as we enter a new stage of growth that we needed to position ourselves in a more cost-effective manner."

Provo offered the advantage of lower taxes, a better technology infrastructure and lower labor costs, Buck said.

Monday was the last day of operations for most of the workers in Fresno, but Buck said there will be some employees working at its East Ashlan Avenue site through the end of the month. A handful of management employees are relocating from Fresno to Provo.

Of 98 positions lost to the relocation, 78 were in telemarketing, most of which were part-time.

Buck said Provo -- home to Brigham Young University -- "has been pretty forward-thinking in how they've planned for business."

Data infrastructure, including fiber-optic cable networks, are more readily available than in the Fresno-Clovis area.

"In Fresno, we would have to pay a significant amount of money because we were not the fiber-optic service loop," he said. "It would be a major cost just to pipe the fiber optics into our facility."

The cost of leasing a larger space was also a factor, Buck said. The company anticipates having about 350 employees by the end of next year, compared to the 98 it had in Fresno.

Fresno State offered a significant pool from which to hire workers, Buck said, because the company could offer flexible part-time hours to students. But BYU's main campus in Provo and other universities in nearby cities provide an even bigger pool, he said.

Another company where layoffs may be coming is Hostess Brands, the nationwide baker of Hostess Twinkies and Dolly Madison Zingers snack cakes, Wonder Bread and other brands. The Texas-based company is going through bankruptcy and in early May sent layoff notices to all of its 18,500 employees in the U.S. -- including 34 in Fresno, 21 in Tulare and 13 in Merced. The Valley layoffs would include employees in bakery outlet stores in Fresno and Tulare, and sales managers and route salespeople who service retail stores in the region.

The notices provided a 60-day advance of potential layoffs that could occur as soon as July 3.

But Erik Halvorson, a Hostess spokesman, said the company "is simply fulfilling our requirements by sending these notices."

"The notices were sent to alert employees that a sale or wind-down of the company is possible in the future. However, our goal is still to emerge from bankruptcy as a growing company with a strong future."

The company does not have a timeline for that, he added.

And as California waits for legislators and Gov. Jerry Brown to finalize a state budget for 2012-13, the nonprofit I-5 Social Services let its 134 employees go on May 31. About 100 are teaching positions. The agency relies heavily on money from contracts to operate its day-care and education centers for children from infancy to age 5 in Cantua Creek, Del Rey, Firebaugh, Huron, Kerman, Madera, Mendota and Selma.

This is not the first time that I-5 Social Services has been disrupted by state budget wrangling. In 2008, delays in state funding forced the agency to temporarily close its doors, and budget problems in other years have threatened to shut down or scale back operations.

Tough times

Three Valley companies have had or are considering layoffs:

Secure Customer Relations: 98 layoffs

Hostess Brands: 68 sent notices

I-5 Social Services: 134 layoffs