Friday, February 27, 2009

Old Fort, North Carolina

Last week Ethan Allen announced they'd be laying off about 70 people from their furniture manufacturing plant in Old Fort, NC. In addition, they are closing and re-opening the plant at two week intervals for the immediate future. This news is just the latest in a wave of furniture manufacturing layoffs and factory closings in western North Carolina. Old Fort's mayor Garland Norton worries about the effect it will have on their small town.

"When you cut 1,000 jobs, 2,000 people are effected," says Norton. To illustrate the ripple effect, he cited JLJ Trucking Company. They were a local business that employed around 200 people until they closed due to a lack of business. Norton's own store, Family Pharmacy has also felt the impact. Sales are down on a whole and people are tending to buy more non-prescription and off-brand products.

Old Fort currently has a population of around 900 people. Norton estimates about 85% of the Ethan Allen plant's remaining workforce are Old Fort area residents. He grows visibly worried at the thought of the plant closing entirely.

Signs like these are dotted along Highway 70, which passes through the town.

Erin Sarkees, 29

Was a Marketing Analyst for Circuit City until the company filed for bankruptcy protection last November. They went bankrupt in January.

Sarkees had only been with the electronics retailer for four months when she was laid off. She quickly found a position at a Lane Bryant retail store in Richmond, VA but lost her job there as well when it closed in January. Only a week later, she found yet another position at a company called Mortgage Outreach Services. According to its' website, MOS "is a company dedicated to helping borrowers experiencing difficulties with their mortgage. MOS will act as a liaison between you and your mortgage company in finding a possible solution to your problem".

Sarkees says she has to share a desk at her new job because the company is hiring so fast that it has grown too big for its' office space. "This company just happens to be doing so well because the economy is so bad," says Sarkees. "Normally they would be basically a collection agency. If you defaulted on your mortgage they'd be calling you. But now because the tables have turned, they're in the position to help people try to save their houses... It actually feels good because you're making some sort of difference".

She says that many of MOS's customers now are homeowners who are up to date with their mortgage payments, but know that they'll be falling behind in a few months, often due to a job loss. The help they are seeking is preventative.

Sarkees is incredibly grateful to have found work in this economy, but she does have a lingering worry in the back of her mind. "I'm wondering if the lifespan of my job will only be two years. At this point, it's preventing me from buying a house just in case I don't have a job when the economy recovers".

Kati Hoke, 24

LinkLaid off from a Richmond, VA based architecture firm last November.

Hoke had been working for her firm for a year and a half when she became a casualty of their downsizing. She wasted no time in taking the opportunity to study for and attain LEED accreditation, which she hopes will give her a competitive edge in the job market. She has been applying to other architecture firms in Richmond, but is starting to consider re-locating cities to find work. In the mean time, Hoke is researching doing mission work in Haiti through her church. She is baby-sitting to make ends meet, and has begun painting again.
"I think I might be [looking for work in other cities], however a lot of my friends I graduated with are also laid off, and they live all over the country and have not been able to find jobs as well. I think it's just the industry everywhere right now..."

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Caleb Moore, 24, and Kyle Sevens, 28

Caleb was laid off from a position as a graphic designer, and Kyle was laid off from his job as a woodwright's apprentice, both within the last month.

Caleb and Kyle live together in an apartment in Charles Village, Baltimore. Both lost their jobs this year and have found themselves going a little stir crazy. Kyle admits to having taken walks to the ATM even when he didn't need cash, just to get out of the house. But neither of them have been idle. Caleb has taken the opportunity to get his home recording studio in working order, and has been recording music daily for his band Lands and Peoples. Meanwhile, Kyle spent his tax return on printing supplies and has taught himself how to silkscreen. He is pictured wearing one of the t-shirts he's begun producing and hopes to eventually turn into a line of clothing.

Jennifer, 30

Will be laid off from a university research lab in April.

Jennifer had been working for three years as a research specialist at a university in Baltimore studying alzheimers and stroke in rats. She was informed in January that funding for her research would end in April. Since then she has applied to over 30 positions within her university (as well as many outside the school), but has only received one offer for a part-time position with no benefits. She and her husband are attempting to make payments on a house they bought together in Columbia three years ago, but have as yet been unable to re-finance.

Alison Johnson, 32

Laid off from Enterprise Community Partners Inc. in December 2008

Johnson left New York to take a job as program officer at ECP in Baltimore two years ago. Her position was eliminated when the company went through a cost-saving restructuring a few months ago. Though apprehensive, she has been able to look on the bright side: "Being laid off is like being broken up with by that really bad boyfriend you knew was a leach but were happy to deal with because you were in a relationship. I've gone through some stages of grief, resentment, happiness and delusion. In the end though, I know that I am in a better position now than when I was working. I get to make my choices based upon my fundamental wants and not by someone else's utility needs. I like the paradigm shift".

Yuri Zietz, 28

Laid off from a Baltimore architecture firm in January 2009

Zietz was one of several studio technicians laid off from his architecture firm last month. The architectural and engineering sector alone lost 10,000 jobs in November as the entire country saw a slowdown in building. Though Zietz is seeking jobs daily, he is using his free time to rehearse and promote his three bands.