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Job Squeeze at Computer Firms Eases : Some Companies Expanding After Earlier Cutbacks

May 28, 1985|DANIEL AKST | Times Staff Writer

Despite major layoffs by two big San Fernando Valley computer-equipment companies, employment is holding firm at many of the other large companies in the Valley's diverse computer industry.

Among the biggest employers in the field, as many are hiring as are firing, according to a survey of companies with more than 100 local employees. Several said they had imposed layoffs or attrition cuts at some point in the past year, particularly in November or December, but others say they are actively expanding their staffs.

The SESCO division of Electronic Memories and Magnetics Corp., for example, which makes computer equipment for high-stress environments such as the North Pole and outer space, laid off about 30 employees at its Chatsworth plant in November. Its work force now stands at about 350.

Now Hiring

Chatsworth-based Computer Memories Inc., which is in the highly competitive disk-drive business, laid off more than 100 local workers in December, but has hired double that number this year, said company Chairman Irwin Rubin. Despite a loss of $8.9 million in the quarter ended Dec. 31, Rubin said no further layoffs are planned, and that a profit will be announced for the quarter ended March 31.

The company, a supplier for the IBM AT desk-top computer, employs 650 people at its Chatsworth facility and 800 in Singapore, where it is adding staff.

Things are even better at Amperif Co., a Chatsworth maker of computer equipment. Personnel manager Judith Shapiro said employment now stands at 140, up from 95 just a year ago. "We have been steadily adding," she said.

Growth at Micropolis

There is also some growth at Micropolis Corp., according to Connie Friedman, its vice president for human resources. She said the Chatsworth disk-drive maker, which employs 700, has not had any layoffs since the fall of 1984, when a handful of administrative jobs were eliminated.

"In fact, we're hiring," she said, stressing that the firm is not just filling vacancies but expanding.

The computer industry as a whole has been in a slump for some time, largely traceable to growing but slower-than-expected sales and, in some sectors, to Japanese imports.

Cuts at Tandon

On May 16, Tandon Corp., also a disk-drive maker, announced that it would eliminate 370 jobs in Chatsworth and Simi Valley, just a year after laying off 850 workers. Its employment in the United States after the cuts will be about 1,100, down from a peak of 3,000 in 1983.

Also on May 16, Dataproducts Corp., a Woodland Hills maker of computer printers, announced that it would lay off 400 of its 2,000 Southland workers, 300 in Irvine and 100 in the Valley.

A few days earlier, Micom Systems Inc., which makes computer communications equipment, laid off 80 full-time employees and an unspecified number of part-time workers from its facilities in Northridge and Simi Valley. Those two operations have a total of 1,200 employees.

Micom ordered the layoffs even though sales were up 39% and profits were up 23% for the 12 months ended March 31. Fourth-quarter profits were off, and earnings per share failed to meet expectations.

"The problem is, the demand for microcomputers isn't as high as initially expected," said Minoru Tonai, general manager of Symbolics Inc., which makes artificial intelligence computers in Chatsworth and has not had any layoffs.

Firm Liquidating

Microperipherals Inc., a Chatsworth peripherals maker, is one victim of the industry slump. With half a dozen employees left, the company is now liquidating. At its peak, less than two years ago, it employed 500 workers in Chatsworth and another 1,200 in Singapore.

"We're certainly going to hear a lot about companies going out of business, laying people off and so forth," said Norm DeWitt of Dataquest, a market research firm in San Jose. The personal computer industry will be particularly hard hit, he said, noting that 350 companies around the world make 800 or 900 models of personal computers.

"We're going to see a shrinking number of players," he said. "We will see 75 by 1987."

Aside from the bigger high-tech employers in the Valley, there are many small companies, some just starting up, whose situations are difficult to gauge. David Hornbeck, director of business research at California State University, Northridge, said there are about 300 companies in technology-related fields in the Valley, many of which have just a couple of dozen workers.

But for now, at least at the bigger companies, the employment situation appears relatively stable.

VG Systems, for example, says about a dozen employees lost their jobs in a management restructuring last month, but that it is now seeking to expand its staff of 225 in Woodland Hills. Sherry Keowen, vice president for administration, said she has about 30 openings fill in engineering, programming, assembly, quality control and administration.

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