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Holiday parties getting smaller

Many companies downsize, cut out bash, bonuses

Local companies that used to spend tidy sums on Christmas parties or worker bonuses are pulling back this year, reflecting the economic slowdown.

There will be smaller parties instead of gala celebrations, and guest appearances by Santa at those parties will be fewer.

A national survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management, an industry group, found nearly half of the companies that responded planned to cut back on holiday celebrations in the workplace. The group had conducted a similar survey one year earlier and found just 40 percent of companies were cutting back.

Dave Black, a principal in NAI Black, a Spokane-based commercial real estate broker and management firm, said the company this year will replace an annual evening celebration with a smaller, more intimate breakfast at the Spokane Club.

“In part we’re doing (that) because it’s cheaper,” Black said. “But it’s also that we find this will be a better forum for people to get together than a company party.”

Sterling Financial Corp., the Spokane bank that’s weathered a management makeover and a federal order to raise $300 million in additional capital by Dec. 15, has pulled the plug entirely on this year’s party.

The bank is encouraging individual departments to host their own holiday parties, said spokeswoman Jennifer Lutz.

KXLY-TV, confronting a decline in advertising revenue, has eliminated a large corporate holiday party. Its sales group, which in the past treated other workers to a catered luncheon, will save money by bartering ad spots for some of the food for that event.

Spokane-based Kauffman & Associates, which provides a range of management services, is ratcheting down holiday spending by providing a smaller meal at its annual holiday party, said Tom Keefe, the firm’s general counsel.

Instead of a large party in a downtown hotel, this year Kauffman will serve a simpler catered meal at the Lincoln Center in north Spokane.

“Our big party seemed to have food left over. We wanted to just tighten the belt a little this year,” Keefe said.

Other companies are giving workers a choice in how the company celebrates the holidays.

Associated Industries, a for-profit business services provider, this year let the staff replace a gift exchange with a campaign to raise money or food for Second Harvest, the regional food bank.

Not all companies, of course, are being forced to behave like the Grinch this holiday. Post Falls-based Ground Force Manufacturing has maintained its annual worker bonuses and large holiday party.

President and CEO Ron Nilson said the past year has been hard on the company; its sales have slumped and the privately held maker of trucks for the mining industry has laid off 30 workers since last winter. It now has about 55 workers.

“We see having a big annual party for our workers as a celebration of life,” Nilson said. “We’re thankful that we’re still going, even if we’re smaller than last year.”

Nilson said the costs he’ll incur this year will come from the company’s 2008 profits.

Every one of the company workers will get a $100 bill, the amount Nilson’s handed out for several years.

“We believe in paying it forward,” he said. If a worker needs the money for groceries or presents, that’s great, said Nilson.

“But sometimes our workers give the money to someone else, if it makes the difference between a happy or unhappy Christmas,” he said.