Layoffs at Hanford are a recurring event echoed for decades in this community.
While just the whisper of potential layoffs used to lead to doomsday predictions for the Tri-Cities, more recent layoffs haven't sent quite the same shudder through our region.
Have we finally reached the point where a sneeze in Hanford employment no longer means the Tri-City economy will catch the flu?
Planning for a post-Hanford economy has been talked about for decades, and the extra attention has paid off. Economic development and diversity as well as a booming agricultural industry have taken some of the sting out of losing jobs at Hanford.
But, still, the loss of close to 800 jobs at the vitrification plant in the next six months or so has ramifications. These are well-paying jobs with benefits, the kind of jobs that still lure folks to give up a good gig with a long-term employer for the promise of a few years of better money and an uncertain employment future.
Bechtel National has laid off about 550 construction workers already from the vit plant and will send out another round of notices to 200 to 300 non-construction employees this month.
CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co. announced plans to cut up to 400 jobs between now and late September. Washington Closure Hanford has announced plans to cut 210 positions.
Many of the layoffs are an effort to align the work going on at the site with a directive from the Department of Energy.
Bechtel must propose a new cost and schedule plan for the vit plant in keeping with commitments to the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board to show that technical issues have been resolved on the project.
Bechtel will base its proposal on a projected $690 million budget for 2013; previous DOE plans had that number at $970 million for that fiscal year.
That's a big chunk of change to evaporate and certainly forces restructuring. Unfortunately, jobs are part of the formula required to reduce expenses and readjust the work force to meet updated needs and mandates.
The vit plant is required to start operations in 2019, which is not that far away when you're talking about a $12.2 billion facility to treat 56 million gallons of radioactive waste that remains from production of weapons plutonium at the site.
For its part, Bechtel is booming worldwide and has openings for employees willing to relocate. That takes people and dollars out of our community but keeps people employed. A job fair is planned for next month to showcase available opportunities.
Bechtel has had 3,200 to 3,400 workers at the project but is now down to about 2,725 workers. That number will drop further with the layoffs coming this month.
The loss of those jobs is another reminder that the community must continue to diversify its economic drivers beyond Hanford.
That has already happened to some degree, but more work is needed to make sure the Mid-Columbia can absorb the losses of jobs like those at the vit plant and continue to thrive.
Industries related to or spawned by Hanford are certainly part of that future, especially in the energy industry. Talk of a small modular nuclear reactor project in the Mid-Columbia is just the kind of thing we have a built-in skill set for in this community.
We have all the assets -- skilled workers, plenty of land, ideal transportation system and high quality of life -- needed to attract new employers and help them grow.
Opportunities abound to evolve our economy and we need forward-thinking leadership to bring industries that will sustain this community into the future.