Keysight Technologies on Wednesday detailed how the global high-technology company and its workforce, among the largest in Sonoma County, stepped up to help each other after the firestorm tore through its headquarters campus in Santa Rosa.
The lasting impact of the North Bay wildfires is broad and will persist for a long time, but the company's response is an example of how the community can deal with economic challenges that have been long-plagued it, said Ron Nersesian, president and CEO, at a gathering of 160 professionals in Santa Rosa. The destruction of thousands of homes and buildings in Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino counties by the fires has turned up the heat on long-simmering problems such as workforce and housing availability.
"What we found is to do everything to put people first, to help them recover and provide them in an environment and with the tools to heal really makes a difference," said Nersesian at North Bay Business Journal's CEO Roundtable event, held at Hyatt Regency Sonoma Wine Country hotel.
When the firestorm marched toward Santa Rosa from Calistoga in the early morning hours of Oct. 9, it burned down three buildings at Keysight's campus, located in the Fountaingrove area of the city. Up in flames were decades of historical items from the days before Hewlett-Packard spun off Agilent Technologies, which later carved off the precision test-and-measurement group that's now Keysight. But the four main buildings where products are designed and produced were saved when firefighters fought back flames on the roofs of a couple of the structures.
"That makes a big difference when we're talking about jobs in the county," Nersesian said.
Of the 1,503 employees working at the Santa Rosa center, including about 400 on contract, Keysight couldn't confirm the welfare of nearly half of them, Nersesian said. Problem was, employee records listed home phone or mobile contact numbers, and many had evacuated, some without their cell phones and others affected by cellular outages when towers were destroyed. Employees mobilized like a network to find out what happened to all the employees.
A few were thinking of leaving Sonoma County after hearing an incorrect Bay Area television news report that the Keysight headquarters had totally burned down, and with it their jobs, Nersesian said.
Keysight has had one fatality from the Tubbs fire. Michel Azarian, a 41-year-old engineer, died Nov. 26, after being hospitalized for seven weeks to treat severe burns he received outside his home. He was the 44th to die from the North Bay wildfires.
Within two days of the fire, Keysight set up an emergency-response center, giving out food, water, clothing, toiletries and cell phone chargers. The company also notified the employees within 30 hours that none would lose their jobs and would get full pay even when out of work as the company got back up to full production. That offer also was extended to the contractors who were working full-time for Keysight.
"I think that helped lessen the impact for employees," Nersesian said.
For the 119 employees who lost their homes and others that weren't able to access funds from insurers or banks, the company helped them with funds. Workers whose homes burned received $10,000 each, and those who relocated received $1,000 per person.
To further minimize the financial impact, Keysight set up an internal donation system. Over $1.3 million has been given so far, and roughly half of that has come from operations outside Sonoma County, Nersesian said.
More business coverage of the North Bay fires and recovery: nbbj.news/2017fires