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2003 A Tough Year For Job Security



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2003 A Tough Year

For Job Security

STAMFORD (AP) –– As the New Year approaches, few in Connecticut will remember the last 12 months as a good year for job security.

Job losses were widely felt and feared, even in areas traditionally considered secure. Faced with a large budget shortfall, the state sent layoff notices to about 2,800 state workers, including 92 blind workers. Some workers took other state jobs that became available and others have since been rehired.

Major companies such as The Stanley Works in New Britain, International Paper in Stamford, and The Hartford Financial Services Group announced layoffs. Yale University also plans job cuts along with several small firms.

“It was tough,” said John Tirinzonie, an economist with the state Department of Labor. “White collar, blue collar, managerial –– everybody got hit.”

But experts noted signs of job gains later in the year and predicted 2004 will be a year of net job growth after the loss of about 50,000 jobs in Connecticut in the past three years.

“The stage is set for a good year,” said Peter Gioia, an economist with the Connecticut Business and Industry Association.

Ed Deak, a professor of economics at Fairfield University, agreed, But he also noted a trend toward outsourcing jobs abroad. That practice initially affected manufacturing jobs, but more recently has involved white collar jobs such as information technology, Mr Deak said.

“I don’t think Connecticut is immune to it,” Mr Deak said.

For all the high-profile job cuts, gains in the latter part of 2003 helped keep Connecticut’s unemployment rate at five percent. That was below the national average and barely higher than the rate of 4.9 percent at the start of the year, according to the Connecticut Department of Labor.

Still, the jobless rate in Connecticut remains much higher than its low point of 2.1 percent in the summer of 2000.

Several major business deals during the year raised worries about more job losses.

The St Paul Companies Inc agreed to merge with Travelers Property Casualty Corp. in Hartford. That deal, one of many changes affecting the state’s important insurance sector, raised questions about whether more layoffs are on the way.

Pfizer Inc, which employs about 6,000 people in Connecticut, agreed to April to acquire Pharmacia Corp. in a $57 billion merger. Employees braced for layoffs for months, but Pfizer said it would keep its research and development headquarters in Connecticut, while moving two lines of research out of state.

General Electric Co., based in Fairfield, made two of its largest acquisitions ever, buying medical and entertainment companies.

Mr Deak said the companies involved in the large deals are trying to achieve scale and cost cutting to enhance profits and market position.

Mr Gioia said the stepped up merger and acquisition activity is a sign of business confidence.

“It’s a sign of spring,” Mr Gioia said. “It’s a sign companies think it’s worth it to take the risk.”

But some companies, such as MeadWestvaco Corp., a paper company in Stamford, have announced plans for more layoffs next year. Those plans, which may have a greater effect on employment outside of Connecticut, have led experts to predict modest improvements in 2004 for job gains.

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