Employers getting job done with cutbacks

WALLA WALLA -- Many of the largest employers in the county are getting the job done with fewer workers than in previous years, according to the latest data from the Port of Walla Walla.

The economic development agency has released its biennial list of the area's largest employers. Among the trends: Employers that have been biggest in the past continue to lead the way, but many that follow are doing it with fewer full-time workers.

The community's top four employers remained the same with Prescott apple orchard and packing operation Broetje Orchards leading the way with 1,888 employees. The Washington State Penitentiary (1,245 total workers) was second, followed by Tyson Fresh Meats (1,210 employees) and Providence St. Mary Medical Center (933 workers).

New to the top five this year was Walla Walla Community College, which jumped from seventh position with 882 workers to bump the Walla Walla School District, with 777 employees, to No. 6.

Rounding out the top 10 were the Army Corps of Engineers, which was fifth on the last list; Boise Inc., which held its position as eighth-largest employer; Whitman College, which also held at nine; and Walla Walla's veterans hospital, which swapped positions with Key Technology for the No. 10 spot.

Half of the top 10 employers reported the same number of workers, or even more than in 2009. But 22 of the top 50 are operating with fewer, said Port Executive Director Jim Kuntz to those in attendance at the Port's Economic Development Advisory Committee meeting.

Broetje's total number was significantly different than 2009, when 2,852 full- and part-time workers reportedly staffed the operation. But the reductions were in part-time employment. The organization's number of full-time employees rose to 1,503 from the 2009 number of 1,160.

Decreasing staffs are not a huge surprise given the economic tumult of recent years. Kuntz instead focused more on the benefits of the community's diversified employment base, which was reflected in the list.

"Everybody thinks we're a government-town scenario," he said.

However, half of the 10 largest employers are nongovernment operations, he continued. More than half -- 13 -- of the top 20 are nongovernment.

"That's a good dichotomy," Kuntz said.

The port has been compiling the largest-employers list about every two years since 1999 as a tool for business retention. The list tells them where the greatest concentration of community residents are employed.

"It's a great hit list of companies we need to be paying attention to," Kuntz explained.

Information for the list comes directly from participating businesses willing to share the information for the survey. The largest of the large employers tend to be consistent and most accurately placed. But variances tend to be reflected more as the list goes on. That's due in part because of the way different organizations tabulate their full- and part-time classifications.

Omissions sometimes are made either by error or when employers don't update their information. Since Tuesday's initial list was revealed, two operations have been added: the Walla Walla Foundry, which was listed as the 39th largest employer in the county and the city of College Place, which ranked at No. 40. Neither had been included on the 2009 list.

Kuntz said one business, QualitySmith, is no longer on the list because of a reduction in staff. The Rose Street Safeway also appears to have vanished from the list.