Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Atmel lays off 200 at Springs plant in past month

WAYNE HEILMAN AND RICH LADEN Updated: January 15, 2013 at 12:00 am

California-based semiconductor manufacturer Atmel Corp. said Tuesday it has laid off 200 permanent and temporary employees in Colorado Springs in the past month as a result of "weak economic conditions" that began in the final quarter of 2011.

Peter Schuman, Atmel’s investor relations director, said the company laid off 140 permanent employees Tuesday and another 60 temporary workers in mid-December because the Springs plant has been operating at about 70 percent capacity for more than a year. Laid-off employees will receive help finding new jobs from the Pikes Peak Workforce Center and outplacement specialty firm Lee Hecht Harrison.

“You need scale in the business and without scale, you have to cut back,” Schuman said. “We hate doing these kinds of things. If the business goes up, then we hire. Typically, we hold off as long as possible in these kinds of activities, but we have been in a downturn for more than a year.”

The layoffs leave the plant at 1150 E. Cheyenne Mountain Blvd. with 1,100 employees; they come less than a year after the Colorado Springs City Council approved a series of retroactive tax breaks for the company that cut its tax bill by $339,070 on $25 million in equipment and other capital spending planned by 2015. The 2012 agreement replaced an earlier economic-development agreement that expired in 2009.

Several laid-off employees walked to their vehicles in the Atmel parking lot about 9:30 Tuesday morning, some carrying personal belongings in one hand and large manila envelopes in another. A Colorado Springs Police Department patrol car was parked near the lot.

Barry Pettis, who worked as a programmer and just completed his 19th year for Atmel, said he got the word of his layoff after starting his 4 a.m. to 4 p.m. shift.

“I’m scared,” said Pettis, a Springs resident and father of two girls. “I had a friend of mine just ask me last night, ‘if it it’s all right, would you consider letting me move in with you?’ He can’t find a job, either. There’s nothing out there. It’s horrible. I mean, the boom of the ‘90s is gone.”

Layoffs took place across the board — hourly workers as well as salaried managers, he said.

Pettis expressed frustration about the loss of manufacturing jobs in Colorado Springs and around the nation.

“How do they expect people to live?” he asked. “I can understand sending people, sending jobs where it’s cheaper to manufacture. We’re out to make a profit, right? But there comes a point when enough’s enough.”

Atmel had employed as many as 1,700 two years ago locally after recalling hundreds of workers let go in earlier layoffs to meet surging demand for chips used in smartphones and tablet computers. But the company began cutting back in late 2011 when it released an undisclosed number of temporary employees.

“It’s unfortunately to see the loss of jobs in our economy and the impact that has on individual families,” said Joe Raso, CEO of the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance. “This is one of the reasons we need to continue investing in business development. We need to make sure that we have a good cost structure, skilled workforce and continue to invest in the community so companies like Atmel will continue to make investments here.”

Atmel’s revenue declined 23.4 percent from a year ago to $1.09 billion in the first nine months of last year, while profits fell 84.8 percent to $42.8 million. The company said revenue declined the most in Asia as a result of softer demand in the consumer and industrial markets, affecting its “customers and their purchasing requirements,” the company told stockholders in a report filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Schuman said the company plans to keep the Springs plant open and recently began producing its XSense touch sensor for tablet computers there. The chip was named winner of the Innovations Award at last week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and has been selected by computer maker ASUS to be used in its next-generation tablet computer that will be sold to consumers later this quarter.

Contact Wayne Heilman: 636-0234 Twitter @wayneheilman

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