Local biotech firm lays off 35 employees (2/25/10)

Feb. 25, 2010

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

The Williston-based biotech company Triosyn laid off 35 workers last week, many of them temporary employees, according to a company spokeswoman.

Christie Huff, vice president of marketing for Triosyn’s parent company, San Diego-based Safe Life Corp., said the layoffs occurred because of a decrease in demand regarding the business’s signature product. Triosyn manufactures filter respirators, known as N95 respirators, used by health professionals during the recent H1N1 pandemic.

The N95 respirators filter airborne microbes, which carry diseases, much better than the standard facemask, Huff said. Initially, Triosyn developed the respirators for the military to protect soldiers during biological warfare attacks.

On Thursday and Friday, Triosyn laid off 27 temporary workers and 12 full-time employees, while promoting four temporary workers to full-time status. Huff said the net loss was 35 employees. Those who were laid off worked mainly in N95 respirator production, she added.

“Demand for the N95 can be cyclical and demand was uncharacteristically high during the H1N1 pandemic,” Huff said.

At the height of the pandemic, Triosyn officials said the company planned on doubling its employee base to keep up with demand for the masks. But with an earlier end than anticipated to the H1N1 virus outbreak, demand dropped for the N95 respirators and the company no longer needed a larger workforce, Huff said.

Initially, it was believed the pandemic would run through April, but cases across the United States dropped off dramatically in January, Huff said.

Huff said Triosyn hired workers with the idea that many would be temporary employees.

“It was very intentional that we hire (employees) this way,” Huff said.

Huff added the pandemic could ramp up again in the fall, as some health officials believe. If that’s the case, Triosyn is set to hire its workers back, she said.