LA GRANDE — The economic downturn due to COVID-19 is hitting a major Union County employer hard.
Barreto Manufacturing Inc. of La Grande has reduced its staff by about about two-thirds since mid-March when government steps to curb the spread of the new coronavirus sent the economy spinning.
“In the past two weeks we have laid off 85 employees,” said Greg Barreto, the president and CEO of Barreto Manufacturing.
The firm had 120 to 130 employees before it started reducing staff, a task Barreto describes as extremely painful.
“Laying people off is the hardest thing a business owner ever has to do,” said Barreto, who also is completing his sixth and final year as representative of Oregon House District 58.
Barreto said his company’s layoffs were necessary after his business dropped dramatically.
“Our orders virtually shut down,” he said.
His company has historically received many orders over the phone in the spring but those have not come in this month.
“Things are pretty dead,” Barreto said. “We are at a standstill right now.”
Barreto said he had to make comparable layoffs during the recession of 2008-09 and his staff was back to its previous level three to four years later. Barreto said he is hoping after the COVID-19 crisis his company rebounds in less time.
“I’m hoping the economy will come back faster,” he said, explaining this could be the case because the downturn occurred so quickly.
A fast recovery would boost people’s faith in the economy, he noted, adding, “What drives the economy is confidence.”
He said he understands why there is so much concern now, a reason why consumers are hesitant to make purchases.
“When there is a level of uncertainty it is natural to pull back,” Barreto said.
Barreto Manufacturing produces tillers, trenchers, log splitters, trailers and more.
The company has plants at the La Grande Industrial Park and just east of Hot Lake.
Almost all of the employees who were laid off worked at these two plants.
He said government restrictions put in place to reduce the spread of COVID-19 by requiring people maintain a distance of 6 feet from each other have not affected the operation of his company. He explained the buildings at his plants are spacious enough to make it easy for employees to maintain the required distance.
The state representative also said the $2 trillion economic stimulus bill President Donald Trump signed Friday would not necessarily improve his firm’s situation.
“It is all predicated on demand,” he said.
This month’s layoffs come on the heels of very successful period in Barreto Manufacturing’s history, boosted by what had been a hot economy.
“Our business had doubled in the past four years,” Barreto said.
Barreto and his wife, Chris, who live in Cove, founded Barreto Manufacturing in 1984. They moved the company to La Grande in 1986.