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UCI Takes Over as Largest Orange County Employer

Orange County’s largest employer is no longer a private sector company.

The University of California, Irvine took over the top spot on the Business Journal’s annual list of the largest OC employers by growing 2.6% to 26,182.

It surpassed The Walt Disney Co., which employs 25,000 at its Anaheim theme parks, down from an estimated 28,000 a year ago and 32,000 two years ago, prior to the pandemic.

“In the last few years, UCI has seen dramatic growth in many areas, including the number of students we educate, the number of patients we treat at our medical center and satellite health offices, and the amount of life-enhancing research we pursue,” UCI Chancellor Howard Gillman said in an email.

“The size of the UCI employee population has also increased as it provides outstanding support and service to our community and region.”

Wild Ride

The past 18 months has been a wild ride for OC employers. The local unadjusted jobless rate increased to a once unthinkable 13.8% in April 2020. Unemployment has steadily fallen since to 5% as of September. Two years ago, the October unemployment rate was 2.6%.

Overall, the 45 companies on the list, each with more than 1,755 local workers, reduced combined total staff numbers by about 2,255, or 1%, to a cumulative 229,714.

Last year’s 45 largest cut nearly 3,500 employees in total.

The list shows, again, the importance of small companies in employment. These largest  employers accounted for only 14% of Orange County 1.6 million employees as of September.

Reductions

About 16 companies on this year’s list reduced their headcount, while 13 increased it.

The largest industry on this list by cumulative employment was the government sector with three entities combining to provide jobs for 48,864.

The second largest industry sector employer was retail chains with 47,834 employees. These chains include No. 6 Albertsons Southern California Division, with 7,853 employees, and No. 29 In-N-Out Burger Inc., with 2,748.

The 12 retail-related entries on the list were by far the most of any type.

Eight healthcare systems, including four on the top 10, were on the list, totaling 47,512 employees. The largest was No. 4 Providence Southern California, with 13,079 employees here.

Eight financial firms made the list, employing 22,775. The largest was No. 11 Bank of American Corp., with 4,800 local employees.

Bank of America’s local operations are in flux, as the company recently disclosed plans to leave its longtime call center in Brea next year. At its peak, that facility employed more than 3,000 and was Brea’s largest employer.

The Business Journal last week was first to report on Amazon buying the Brea site, with an eye on future redevelopment for its own uses.

Notables

• Companywide, the firms and institutions on the list employed 8.2 million, an 8.2% rise from a year ago.

The biggest reason for the increase was Santa Ana-based Allied Universal, which earlier this year tripled its workforce to 800,000 by acquiring London-based G4S PLC, making it the world’s largest private security firm both by employee count and annual revenue around $18 billion.

“The plan is to grow to $25 billion in annual sales by 2026,” Chief Executive Steve Jones told the Business Journal earlier this year.

Earlier this month, Allied Universal expanded its janitorial services unit by acquiring The Millard Group LLC, a Morton Grove, Il.-based commercial facility services company with 2,150 employees.

No. 12 Allied Universal also grew 18% in Orange County to 4,887.

• The fastest grower was Johnson & Johnson Medical Devices Corp. which increased its headcount 25% to 3,136. The New Brunswick, N.J.-based company made the biggest leap, climbing six spots to No. 26.

• Aerospace giant Boeing, with local operations in Seal Beach and Huntington Beach, continues to be hard hit by the pandemic as well as its problems with its 737 MAX. Its workforce is estimated to have fallen to 4,880.

• Edwards Lifesciences Corp., the county’s second-largest publicly traded company (NYSE: EW), increased its headcount 5.2% to 4,745. A large expansion of its local campus continues, which will likely lead to hundreds of more jobs over the coming years.

• The only technology-based company on the list was Blizzard Entertainment Inc., the maker of video games including “World of Warcraft” and the largest software maker in Orange County. It checked in at No. 29 as its local employee number fell by 6.9% to 2,700. 

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Peter J. Brennan
Peter J. Brennan
Peter J. Brennan has been a journalist for 40 years. He spent a decade in Latin America covering wars, narcotic traffickers, earthquakes, and business. His resume includes 15 years at Bloomberg News where his headlines and articles sometimes moved the market caps of companies he covered by hundreds of millions of dollars. His articles have been published worldwide, including the New York Times and the Washington Post; he's appeared on CNN, CBC, BBC, and Bloomberg TV. He was awarded a Kiplinger Fellowship at The Ohio State University.
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