Executive Summary / The Pacesetter

The economy has caught up with Los Angeles County's largest employers.

This year, the workforce among the county's 25 largest employers totaled 212,450, off 2.6 percent from 2001 when it totaled 218,300 workers.

That's in line with a rising countywide unemployment rate, which hit 6.5 percent in May, compared with 5.1 percent for the like period a year ago.

Perhaps the biggest loser is Boeing Co., which was the top gun last year but fell to No. 2 on the list as it shed 4,000 workers locally. That's largely the result of a slowdown in its 717 commercial jet program, as well as a fall-off in its Boeing Satellite Systems unit, which lost a $900 million contract earlier this year.

Another big loser: Kmart, which filed for bankruptcy protection in January and has dropped off the list. But there were companies that added employees, including No. 1 Kaiser Permanente, Ralphs Grocery Co. and Bank of America.

Of the 25 companies on the list, there are six health care companies and four each in the finance/insurance and retail sectors.

Laurence Darmiento

The Pacesetter: Kaiser Permanente

Once again Kaiser Permanente has topped the list of Los Angeles County's largest private employers, after being bested from that position this year by Boeing Co.

Kaiser, actually three separate but integrated entities health plan, hospitals and medical groups saw its total employment rise to 27,635 in 2002 from 26,000 last year.

The increase came from an extra 100,000 enrollees over the past year that has prompted the hiring locally of more nurses, doctors and other workers.

"We are in a very stable growth stage," says Richard Cordova, president of its Southern California region.

With 6.2 million members in California, and half of those in the southern portion of the state, Kaiser is by far the largest HMO in California. To service those members, the company operates six hospitals in Los Angeles County, as well as dozens of medical office buildings.

Cordova says that Kaiser has been a stable alternative in a topsy-turvy health care marketplace, which has seen health plans go bankrupt amid skyrocketing health care costs and premiums.

However, Kaiser, which only recently recovered from its own financial difficulties, has not been immune from the marketplace. It also has sought premium increases in the 12 percent to 20 percent range to stay in the black amid the sharp rise in health care costs.

Laurence Darmiento

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