employees brace for possible job cuts

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) It's been one of Vermont's biggest high tech success stories -- in Burlington. But workers are bracing for possible cuts in the next couple of weeks.

"Over the next few weeks they will be doing a workforce alteration," said Vt. Commerce Secretary Michael Schirling.

It's not clear yet how many jobs could be cut at in Burlington, but state officials know its parent company, Cox Automotive, plans to cut 950 jobs globally -- about 3-percent of its total workforce.

Employees tell Channel 3 they're trying to stay on task, but talk of the impending cuts can be tough to ignore.

Reporter Kristin Kelly: How important is dealer to Vermont?

Michael Schirling: Very important.

Schirling says Dealer is one of the few Vermont employers with more than a thousand workers, and its high tech, good paying jobs, have fueled a rebirth along Burlington's Pine Street.

Economist Art Woolf says Dealer also plays another important role in an aging state struggling to retain younger workers. "Demographically, is that the kind of people that tend to work there are younger people, presumably with college degrees, and that's not a demographic -- at least the age part of it -- is not a demographic that's increasing in Vermont," Woolf said.

He will be watching how many people are cut, and what types of jobs. He says up to 100 cut here won't have a major impact on the region's economy. More than that could hurt. "As long as we're talking about relatively small numbers of people it doesn't really concern me," he said.

Cox Automotive issued a statement which says in part:

"We do not take these decisions about job impacts lightly and will remain true to our values, treating everyone with dignity, fairness and respect throughout this process. We are committed to moving quickly to build a stronger and more agile organization that gives us the best chance to succeed well into the future."

Mike Schirling met with leaders at the Burlington facility last week -- it was set up before word about layoffs. And despite the possibility of job losses in Burlington, he believes Dealer is here for the long term.

Reporter Kristin Kelly: What makes you say that you're confident they're going to stay here?

Michael Schirling: Well the cues are things like they recently announced their Fort Meyers and Manhattan Beach locations are closing. They're actually consolidating their technical operations to a couple of locations including Burlington, so those are positive cues in the backdrop of this news.

Schirling also said that any worker laid off will likely find work quickly. He says Dealer employees have key skills, and with Vermont's low 3.1 percent unemployment rate they will be in high demand.