IRVINE — Orange County employers are proceeding cautiously into 1991 as nearly twice as many as last year are considering cutbacks in office staff in the first half, according to a survey released Wednesday.
Despite that, the outlook isn't bleak, said Bonnie Nash, president of Thomas Temporaries Corp., the Irvine-based employment agency for temporary office workers that conducted the survey.
A sizeable number of the county's employers still plan to increase their permanent office staffs in the first half of 1991, and the vast majority say that things will remain stable.
And that, coming at a time when businesses are being bombarded with forecasts of recession, is good news, Nash said.
Increases in office staffing indicate that other growth is planned because office workers are normally hired in the middle of expansion to support growth in production, sales or other areas, she said. By the same token, layoffs of office workers generally come near the end of a down cycle because those workers tend to be among the last to be let go.
So, based on the survey, Nash predicts that 1991 won't totally be "a doom and gloom year."
The survey, part of a larger statewide study, found that 27% of the employers in south Orange County plan to add more office workers through June--down from 40% in the first half of 1990. Only 14% of the employers in north Orange County intend to increase the size of their offices staffs, down from 27% last year.
Still, 72% of North County's employers and 67% of those in the South County plan to remain stable, with no change anticipated in their office staffs.
At the negative end of the spectrum, 13% of North Orange County employers say they expect to cut the size of their office staffs between now and the end of June--up from 7% a year ago--and 10% of the South County's employers--up from 5% last year--say they anticipate office-staff reductions.
Statewide, the survey of 1,931 businesses--including 200 in Orange County--found that 21% of all businesses plan to expand their office staffs in the first six months of 1991, while 12% predict a decrease in staffing and 67% think things will be stable.
The relative optimism of South Orange County employers and pessimism of those in North County, when compared to the statewide outlook, is normal, Nash said.
"Over the six years of our surveys, South Orange County executives have been much more optimistic because that is where there is a lot of new business development, and a lot of growing high-tech businesses, and it is where a lot of corporate headquarters locate," she said.
North Orange County employers generally have more mature businesses whose hiring needs are less volatile. In addition, Nash said, "there are a lot of aerospace companies in North Orange County, and they are being hit hard" by a combination of general economic downturn and aggressive defense budget cuts by Congress.
Nash said construction and development companies throughout Orange County were among the most pessimistic when asked if they believed their need for permanent office workers would increase or decrease during the first half of the year.
The survey does not break down industry hiring trends by region, but Nash said Orange County employers generally followed the statewide trend.
And on a statewide basis, the survey showed that education, government, insurance and high-tech businesses expected the greatest increases in office staff while automotive, construction and general manufacturing expected the biggest decreases.
Employment Outlook Employers in Orange County are looking for much less growth in their office staffs in the first half of this year than in past years, and North Orange County employers are more pessimistic than their South County counterparts.