Employees face layoffs at several local companies

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Several major local companies have announced job cutbacks at the start of the year, and one has shut down completely.

Florida Blue insurance company has confirmed it is reducing its staff by 150 statewide. And Jacksonville-based retailer Body Central closed its doors across the country this weekend, causing hundreds to lose their jobs locally.

Over the weekend, Body Central shut down its remaining 265 retail stores nationwide, and 2,500 workers lost their jobs, including 185 at the Jacksonville headquarters. An attorney for the 42-year-old Jacksonville-based company said it just wasn't making enough money to stay afloat. The attorney said the business was in negotiations with investors into the final hours, but couldn't salvage the company.

The employees who used to work at the Body Central store in the River City Marketplace on the Northside left a note on the door of the store, saying "Thank you to all of our loyal customers that were with us until the end! We love you! We will miss you!" 

"It is sad," shopper Carrie Hall said Tuesday. "A lot of places around here are closing down and it is sad."
Across town, leaders at insurance giant Florida Blue announced they were handing out 150 pink slips across the state this week.
In a statement to News4Jax, Florida Blue spokesman Paul C. Kluding said: "Loss of positions are not taken lightly. We are working directly with impacted employees to identify opportunities where their skills might align with other openings in the organization. We also are providing career placement services to those who plan to seek employment outside the organization."

The eliminated positions are part of department restructuring undertaken as the company looked for ways to lower costs "without compromising the level of service and quality of care for our members," Kluding said.
Job cuts have been common lately. Swisher International, Inc., a Jacksonville-based cigar company, has moved about 450 local jobs in the past 18 months to the Dominican Republic. And CSX Transportation started eliminating about 300 positions in November.
"A lot of companies are making adjustments through their earning reports at the last quarter of the year, and a lot of companies are embarking on new strategies," said Candace Moody of CareerSource Northeast Florida.

In many of these cases, employees did not know layoffs were coming. Mood said a lot of times companies do not want to announce their reorganization and business plans before they have to.
Moody said her nonprofit works to help those who've lost their jobs, providing information, training opportunities and employment opportunities.
Though things might seem grim right now, Moody said there are still plenty of opportunities in the area. Unemployment is down to 5.5 percent, and she's seeing significant growth in construction and manufacturing jobs.
"There are employment opportunities going on right now," Moody said. "It isn't a bad time to be in the market. It's just really important for people to take a good hard look at the skills they have and the way the market is moving." 

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