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Monday, Jul 22, 2024

OC Businesses Hiring Through the Headwinds

Orange County’s jobless rate has been ticking higher of late, but the county’s largest employers are holding on to their headcounts with a reported increase in employees over the past year, according to the Business Journal’s biggest employers list.

The 36 companies on this year’s list, each with more than 1,500 local workers, increased local staff numbers by about 4,287, or 2%, to a cumulative 216, 385 as of last month.

These 36 firms represent about 12% of Orange County’s total workforce of 1.72 million.

It marked the second consecutive year of gains—a larger 2.9% boost was reported a year ago—after three years of successive declines for companies on the list.

Disneyland Resort retained its top position as Orange County’s largest employer with an unchanged 34,000 employees, which the company calls “cast members.”

The company, the Anaheim-based unit of Burbank-based The Walt Disney Co., unseated the University of California, Irvine, last year for the top slot.

UCI upped its local headcount by nearly 5% to 26,072 employees, keeping the No. 2 slot, as the school grows its healthcare offerings—it recently topped off its new hospital as part of a $1.3 billion medical complex underway in Irvine—as well as its educational programming (see story, page 3).

Time will tell if these firms can maintain their growth in 2024, with economists at California State University, Fullerton forecasting the local unemployment rate will reach 5% or higher toward the end of next year as the local economy feels the effects of a nationwide recession.

The most recent unemployment rate for OC was hovering around 3.7% in September.

That’s down from a revised 3.9% in August but above the 2.8% rate seen in September last year.

The state’s unemployment rate was 4.9% in September while the U.S.’s was 3.6%.

A recent report from CSUF—which itself ranks No. 15 on the list with 4,211 local workers—notes the top sectors that drove local employment growth this year was leisure and hospitality, with a gain of 10,642 jobs; healthcare and social assistance with 6,658; and professional and business services with 4,038.

The retail sector is largely absent from this year’s list due to a lack of participation in Business Journal research, save for two exceptions: Costco Wholesale Corp. and Northgate González Market. Costco reported its local headcount jumped 15% to 4,654, while Northgate reported 2,399 local employees for the year ending in October.


Irvine-based Parker Aerospace, a newcomer to last year’s list, once again reported the largest employment increase with a 57% increase to 1,946, moving up six spots to No. 28.

The company, a unit of Cleveland-based Parker Hannifin Corp. (NYSE: PH), reported a 40% increase in 2022, when its parent company completed the purchase of U.K. giant Meggitt PLC, which also has substantial operations in Irvine.

“Parker Aerospace’s acquisition of Meggitt PLC provides a unique opportunity to expand our complementary product portfolios and develop new products and services that neither company could provide individually before, resulting in a force multiplier to our growth trajectory,” Vice President Barry Draskovich told the Business Journal.

Parker Aerospace is now OC’s third-largest aerospace and defense contractor, up three slots from the year prior.

More growth is expected for the local operations of Parker Aerospace, which in July said it had received a $222 million contract for support work on the U.S. Army’s UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters.

The Army contract is one of the largest deals the company has received recently, following an even larger $444 million U.S. military contract announced last year.


Orange County’s most valuable publicly traded company, Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. (NYSE: CMG), remains one of the fastest-growing public firms in the region with a 12% headcount boost, moving it up 13 slots to No. 27 with 2,074 area employees.

The restaurant reported revenue of $9.3 billion for the 12 months ended June, showing growth of 36% from two years ago.

At the end of June, Chipotle’s portfolio included 3,205 U.S. locations and 57 international spots, with outposts in Canada, the United Kingdom, France and Germany. Companywide, its employee count jumped 16% to 114,174.

“Over the past year, we have added new roles at our restaurant support center, and invested in development, international, digital marketing, data and analytics and food safety, among other areas of our business,” Chipotle told the Business Journal in an emailed statement.

Orange County’s largest restaurant employer remains Irvine-based In-N-Out Burger Inc., No. 19 overall, moving up five slots despite decreasing its headcount nearly 11% to 2,658 employees.

The chain is still in expansion mode, opening a new outpost in San Clemente at the end of last year and nearing delivery of another in San Juan Capistrano. It’s also begun construction on a location at the Outlets at Orange, replacing the former El Torito Restaurant.

Last week, In-N-Out said it would open its first restaurant in New Mexico. The company now operates, or has clear plans to operate, in 10 states. Companywide, its employs 38,081, a 1% climb from a year ago.

Louisville, Ky.-based Yum Brands Inc. (NYSE: YUM), which owns two local brands, including Irvine’s Taco Bell, also reported a headcount decline, with OC employment down 5.7% to 1,822.

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