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Liberty Lake tech company to cut 120 jobs

Tue., Dec. 16, 2008, 5:57 p.m.

The worsening global economy has done a number on Liberty Lake high-tech company Agilent Technologies. The number: 120 to 150 workers will be laid off over the next year, company officials said Tuesday.

The company’s headcount in Liberty Lake is about 220. Those workers learned Tuesday that declining demand for Agilent products translates into job cuts as the Santa Clara, Calif.-based tech firm tries to stay competitive.

Many of the jobs being eliminated are engineers or other skilled positions. Many of those employees earn more than $65,000 a year, with some earning $80,000 and above, according to company data.

In addition, about 20 other Liberty Lake workers will be asked to move to Santa Rosa, Calif., where some of the Agilent work in mobile test equipment design will be consolidated, local plant manager Niels Fache said.

Two thirds of the Liberty Lake workers belong to Agilent’s mobile broadband division, which designs and makes test hardware used by cell phone manufacturers such as Motorola and Ericsson.

The other third — roughly 70 workers — involve a variety of work functions, including communications, business analysis and support. The impact of the declining global economy is forcing all divisions within Agilent to resize to deal with an uncertain future, said Agilent human resources manager Fred Krassowski.

The reductions will be felt in the mobile broadband and the other section, Fache said.

Initial layoffs won’t start until the end of January; they’ll continue throughout 2009 as workers complete projects, he said.

Laid-off workers will be given severance packages equal to their seniority.

The collateral impact on the area’s economy will be severe, business leaders said Tuesday.

In a down economy, there are a limited number of high-paying tech jobs in this area for those workers laid off by Agilent, Eastern Washington University economics professor Grant Forsyth said.

Many will leave the area or earn less money, adding to the net reduction in consumer spending that the area’s businesses will see, Forsyth said.

In addition, the lost jobs will mean a reduction in business services purchased by Agilent for its area operations, he said. As Agilent uses fewer resources and draws down its Liberty Lake work force, the effects extend to many area firms who help keep it going, he said.

Johnny Humphreys, who has been CEO at a number of Spokane tech firms and now is chairman of biotech company GenPrime, said the layoffs demonstrate the way global factors hold sway on a company like Agilent.

Since the company’s sales depend on global conditions, the impact on a local site such as Liberty Lake may be more severe than on companies doing business regionally, Humphreys said.

Originally part of the tech giant Hewlett Packard, the Liberty Lake plant became Agilent Technologies in 1999. The site also once included a circuit board manufacturing center. Total employment there in 2001 exceeded 1,100 workers.

Fache, who is also general manager of Agilent’s mobile broadband division, said one focus at Liberty Lake, on hardware development, will move to the Santa Rosa Agilent site. The two remaining functions – mobile broadband application development and marketing – will continue here, he said.

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