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Sunlight Supply quietly laid off workers before sale to Scotts

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:
2 Photos
Sunlight Supply in downtown Vancouver has been acquired by Scott’s Miracle-Gro, becoming part of its hydroponic gardening subsidiary, Hawthorne Gardening Company. Sunlight’s 300,000-square-foot headquarters will be the cornerstone of Hawthorne’s supply chain, according to a statement from Scott’s.
Sunlight Supply in downtown Vancouver has been acquired by Scott’s Miracle-Gro, becoming part of its hydroponic gardening subsidiary, Hawthorne Gardening Company. Sunlight’s 300,000-square-foot headquarters will be the cornerstone of Hawthorne’s supply chain, according to a statement from Scott’s. (Alisha Jucevic/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Sunlight Supply may have quietly laid off more than 100 workers in the year leading up to its $450 million sale to Scotts Miracle-Gro.

A filing with the U.S. Department of Labor shows the Vancouver horticulture supplies company claimed 135 people would be laid off between December 2016 and November 2017.

The filing — a petition for government aid for workers whose jobs are lost to foreign competition — shows workers were laid off from Sunlight Supply’s fabrication department. Lights once made on-site were now imported from China, according to the report.

“Originally, lights were entirely made in the fabrication shop. Over time some components were imported from China and now lights are mostly made in China and sold under the Sunlight Supply name,” said the filing, dated Dec. 6, 2017.

It’s unclear exactly how many employees have lost their jobs. The state Employment Security Department said the number doesn’t always match what is claimed on the petition.

Last November, Chief Financial Officer Ann Rivers told The Columbian layoffs affected only “a small number” of workers. She said the layoffs were due to bringing more workers under one roof at its new headquarters, at 3204 N.W. 38th Circle.

Less than a year later came the sale to Scotts Miracle-Gro, the lawn care giant based in Marysville, Ohio. The sale, announced April 17, was one of the largest in Clark County history. It included $25 million in stock in the publicly traded company that did over $1 billion in sales last year.

Sunlight Supply officials declined to speak for this article and referred questions to Scotts. Jim King, senior vice president of corporate affairs at Scotts, said it knew of the layoffs but felt they weren’t out of the ordinary.

“The entire industry has seen a little bit of a downturn over the last several months,” King said. “The job consolidation (Sunlight Supply) has had in that facility is really a result of that and we were well aware. That was a decision they took very seriously.”

Layoffs at private enterprises like Sunlight Supply are typically not made public unless they impact a large enough share of workers, like the Georgia-Pacific mill workers in Camas.

If a large company shuts down an entire facility at once or lays off one-third of its employees, the layoffs often trigger a public bulletin from the state Employment Security Department.

Sunlight Supply employment hovered around 530 employees last November, Rivers said. Representatives for Scotts say the company now has near 430 employees nationwide, with about half in Vancouver.

King said Scotts plans to hire more workers at Sunlight Supply’s facilities, if the acquisition is approved by federal regulators in June. Some of those jobs could be in manufacturing.

“Our plan would be to buy products from off-shore and bring them into Vancouver for assembly from there,” he said. “I think we’ll wind up with more jobs than what we started off with.”

Scotts itself has recently weathered a difficult stretch. King said an unseasonably long winter hurt sales in spring, an important period for lawn care products.

And sales of its Hawthorne brand of hydroponics equipment have dropped 29 percent in its fiscal second quarter — about the same time California’s legal marijuana market came online.

“We started to see declines in that business in October that slowly got worse through February of this year,” King said. “That hasn’t started to improve yet.”

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