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Industry changes force Whidbey Telecom layoffs

Whidbey Telecom announced it will cut 17 jobs from its roster this month.

According to George Henny, co-CEO of the Freeland-based communications company, the cuts are the result of external factors beyond the organization’s control. The decision was made “after an exhaustive review of our entire organization, and with the greatest reluctance.”

“It’s heart-wrenching anytime you have to reduce staff, and this experience is no exception,” wrote Henny, in an email to The Record.

The changes include the layoff of 14 existing workers, two vacant jobs not being backfilled and one person who is retiring next month. The move also includes some reorganization: three employees are being reassigned within the company and two positions will see a reduction in hours.

According to Henny, the restructuring is a response to regulatory changes that have had an impact on the company’s revenue sources. Like most rural telecoms, he said it relies on “a complex system of local, state and federal regulations and financial support to help cover the higher costs of rural telecommunications service.”

“The existing regulatory support system hasn’t kept up with the rapid industry changes and as a result, we’ve had to make hard decisions… ,” Henny wrote.

Chet Ross, president of the Freeland Chamber of Commerce, said it was hard to know what, if any, long-term impacts Whidbey Telecom’s layoffs might have because the company may refill the positions in the near future. It’s always a detriment, however, to lose highly skilled jobs.

“Anytime we lose expertise, it doesn’t help the economy because usually they are better paying jobs,” Ross said.

In a later telephone interview with Henny, he told The Record the cuts were not made to any one department, but over a cross section of the company.

Whidbey Telecom currently employs about 120 people, including those at the WiFire Cafe in Freeland. The layoffs go into effect June 30.

“It was a long grace period … but we wanted to do right by them as best we could,” Henny said.

 

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