Colonial Williamsburg cuts work force

Organization aims to bring staffing to levels of the mid-1990s

November 27, 2003|By April Taylor | April Taylor,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. --Colonial Williamsburg is eliminating 95 jobs in the Historic Area -- 15 percent of workers in one of its largest and most visible divisions.

The cuts will come in the ranks of costumed interpreters, administrative staff and managers, all of them full-time, nonseasonal employees, officials said.

As Colonial Williamsburg ends a less-than-stellar summer season and looks toward 2004, officials are aiming to get staffing for next year back to mid-1990 levels. That's when the number of visitors to CW hovered close to 1 million. In contrast, attendance in 2002 slumped to 850,000, the lowest level in four decades, in the wake of a slumping national economy and post-Sept. 11, 2001, jitters about traveling.

"Over the past decade, CW's revenues have decreased substantially, along with our number of guests," said Colonial Williamsburg public relations director Tim Andrews. "While revenues went down, Historic Area level staffing went up, by 160 or more. We obviously could not support that."

Foundation President Colin Campbell said the job cuts would trim expenses by several million dollars, though he didn't have an exact figure because the cuts will include a range of positions not yet finalized.

The total number of staff in the Historic Area is 635, including part-time and seasonal staff. Foundation officials want that number at 540, where it was in 1994 and 1995.

Colonial Williamsburg, the city's largest employer and biggest taxpayer, has more than 3,000 workers on its payroll, so the cuts represent about 3 percent of all workers.

Campbell this year has stressed that he will reduce Colonial Williamsburg's $30 million deficit to $25 million by the end of the year and eliminate the deficit by 2006. It's a goal that he admits will be difficult given this year's sagging ticket revenues.

And, while he says they're necessary, the announced job cuts would not contribute significantly to that goal, Campbell said.

"This is part of a comprehensive plan to refine our programs and planning," Campbell said.

"A realistic assessment of our business and competitive situation has led to the conclusion that these steps, while difficult, are essential," Campbell said.

Rex Ellis, vice president for the Historic Area, had warned in August that layoffs were inevitable. He said then that his total annual payroll was around $20 million.

Along with the cuts in personnel, Colonial Williamsburg said Historic Area programs would be reduced by about 20 percent in 2004.

No decision had been made on which programs would be sliced, though. "All programs are being looked at," said Brooks.

The year 1774 will continue to be the focus, a year leading to the full-blown American Revolution and wartime, he said.

Starting in 2005, the theme will change every three months, emphasizing a different year: The winter will be 1773, the spring will be 1774, the summer will be 1776 and the fall 1775. The Christmas holiday season will reflect all of the 1770s.

"The programming will offer our guests more of an experience prior to the American Revolution because they will see a series of years on how they lead up to the revolution," Brooks said.

There are 300 fewer full-time Colonial Williamsburg employees now than last year, officials say, so once the layoffs become effective, the total will be near 400. Many of the jobs already affected, but not all, became vacant through attrition.

Brooks said the foundation has been able to reduce expenses by $10.5 million over the last year through those and other means.

And none of Colonial Williamsburg's departments are immune to future cuts, Brooks said. They include finance, operations, special projects, human resources, products, collections and museums, productions, publications and learning ventures, research and external affairs.

"There have been positions eliminated in all the areas," said Brooks. "But these departments don't have the numbers that hospitality and the Historic Area do."

Even so, Colonial Williamsburg's adjustments won't put a damper on tourist satisfaction, she said.

"As we're reducing jobs, we're reducing programs as well," Brooks said. "The programming remaining will be enhanced so that we don't feel that our guests will be missing anything."

"Our goal is that it will balance out," she said.

April Taylor is a reporter for the Newport News Daily Press, a Tribune Publishing newspaper in Virginia.

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