Mar 11, 2024 - News

Layoffs hit Portland's Nike, Columbia, UPS and more

Illustration of a paper chain of people with scissors about to cut the chain.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Hundreds of layoffs have hit Portland-area businesses since January, and the cuts have affected some of the region's marquee employers, including Nike, Columbia Sportswear, UPS, Vacasa, and advertising agency Wieden + Kennedy.

Why it matters: Local economists say the recent job cuts in Portland are a sign of a struggling national economy and not isolated to Portland.

What they're saying: Economist Devin Bales, research director at DHM Research, told Axios that low interest rates during the pandemic meant borrowing was cheap, and firms used that money to hire new people and experiment with new products.

The big picture: Businesses have stopped waiting for the Federal Reserve to lower interest rates.

  • They are letting go of staff to cut costs, especially those who were working on experimental goods and services, Bales said.
  • "A lot of big businesses, like Nike and UPS, are saying, 'We're going to focus on the things that make us money,'" he said.

By the numbers: Reports of layoffs have come one after another in the last two months for those employed in the Portland metro area — the biggest cuts affecting those at Nike (nearly 1,500 jobs are expected to be cut worldwide), which could impact many at the company's Beaverton headquarters.

  • UPS is cutting 300 jobs when it closes its day sort facility on Swan Island in April.
  • Wieden + Kennedy has cut 90 jobs, 20% of its 440-person Portland office.
  • Columbia Sportswear plans to lay off 3% to 5% of its corporate workforce by the end of the month.
  • Vacation rental management business Vacasa will lay off 5% of its employees, or 320 people.
Oregon layoffs reported to WARN in the past six months
Line chart with area fill showing that the number of Oregon layoffs reported to WARN in the past six months by announcement date as of February 2024 was 2,175. In August 2014, the six-month rolling sum was 772 layoffs. Layoffs spiked in 2020 at the start of the pandemic and reached a new low in early 2023 before steadily increasing. Data: Oregon Dislocated Worker Unit; Chart: Axios Visuals

Context: Tim Duy, economics professor at the University of Oregon, said there's a term for companies overhiring in boom times: labor hoarding.

  • Josh Lehner of the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis told Axios that employers overhired after the pandemic and now the job market is rebalancing.

Between the lines: Lehner said the recent rise in layoffs is not out of line with what he's seen in the last decade.

  • "That points toward the rebalanced labor market," Lehner said.

What's next: The Federal Open Market Committee can opt to cut interest rates at its next meeting on March 19 and 20.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect that only the day shift at UPS's Swan Island facility has been closed, resulting in 300 jobs lost (not that the entire facility was laid off).

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