Technology firm Gr8 furloughs 20

Founder cites profit woes, calls concern `not out of business'

April 21, 2001|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

Twenty employees were laid off yesterday at Gr8 LLC, a 17-year-old Baltimore design, marketing and technology company hit by the slowdown in the economy.

The layoffs leave the firm, which is in the American Can Co. building in Canton, with a staff of 31, plus the four partners, said Craig Ziegler, who founded the company in 1985.

"For the last couple months, we've been carrying a work force in anticipation of contracts coming on, and they haven't come in yet," he said yesterday.

"We scaled our work force back in order to be able to handle the workload we have in the pipeline. We're not out of business."

Ziegler founded the company as a marketing and design concern before the advent of the Internet and built it slowly over the years.

In 2000 the company had its best year ever, logging just under $8 million in revenue, Ziegler said.

Last September, the company had 85 employees

But Gr8 has not been profitable since January, and Ziegler said he realized about two months ago that he would have to do something.

"Unfortunately," he said, "we couldn't hold out any longer. We had to do what we had to do."

The first round of layoffs occurred a few weeks ago, Ziegler said.

The company "will take care of" employees who were dismissed, Ziegler said, but he would not elaborate on any possible severance packages or benefits.

He hopes to be able to rehire some of those employees in 30 to 60 days.

Gr8 will remain at American Can, where it leases 16,000 square feet, but will seek businesses interested in subletting. Ziegler said it was unclear how much space a downsized Gr8 would need.

The company has increasingly moved into technology as the Internet has boomed.

In September 2000, Gr8 announced an alliance with International Business Machines Corp. to provide Big Blue's customers with Web design and digital branding work.

Gr8's client roster includes Hewlett-Packard Corp., Sylvan Learning Centers and the Greater Baltimore Alliance.

"We've been around for a long time, so we're trying to figure out where the market is and, more importantly, where it's going," Ziegler said.

"What we do as a company is very appealing to the market."

There is no plan to change the direction of the company, he said, just to return to profitability.

Ziegler said the Southeast Baltimore company is seeking additional funding.

Gr8 is one of several communications companies in Baltimore - including Gilden Integrated, GKV Communications Inc., and Advertising.com Inc. - that have had to lay off employees recently.

Elsewhere, problems have been more serious.

The Reeves Agency Inc., a Baltimore-based advertising and public relations business founded in 1978, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy liquidation in January.

And last month, creditors of TidePoint Corp. filed to force the company into involuntary liquidation just two months after the provider of e-commerce services laid off two-thirds of its staff and pledged to become a software company.

"It's not Armageddon," Ziegler said yesterday. "It's building on what we have and trying to move forward."

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