NTBG cuts 8 employees from staff

The National Tropical Botanical Garden has laid off eight employees from its headquarters in Lawa’i, citing volatility in the stock market that adversely impacted its endowment and revenues.

About one-third of the organization’s operating budget comes from earnings from its endowment, and with recent market declines, the layoffs became necessary, said NTBG director Dr. Paul Alan Cox.

The layoffs came as a surprise, said Georgene Yamada, an assistant to Ed Yamada, her husband, who is president of Na Lima Kokua, an NTBG volunteer group.

“It is going to make it very difficult on the garden, the removal of the people. Everybody is going to have to stretch themselves and work a little harder, to make things go,” Yamada said.

The cutbacks, however, are not expected to affect the running of the three Kaua’i botanical gardens of the NTBG – McBryde, Allerton and the Limahuli Garden, considered to be among the most beautiful in the world, Cox said.

NTBG also operates two gardens on Maui and in Florida, respectively, and two preserves on the Big Island.

The expertise of the departing employees from the NTBG headquarters in Lawa’i was valued and will be missed, but “visitors won’t see any difference because we decided to protect the gardens and gardening staff,” Cox said.

“We have specifically chosen to reduce headquarters staffing rather than gardener positions so that the beauty and appeal of our five gardens will remain undiminished,” Cox said.

NTBG tour programs at Limahuli and the other two Kaua’i Gardens, comprising more than 1,300 acres, also will not be affected, Cox said.

Dec. 6 was the last working day for a representative for NTBG volunteers, a person who preserves plant samples taken from the field, a field botanist, three office workers, a chief mechanic and a person who kept records of plants.

A list of the employees was not released by NTBG, but one is Ken Wood, a field botanist who has been nationally recognized in National Geographic magazine for his work in collecting endangered plants in remote Na Pali valleys and elsewhere on Kaua’i.

A ninth person who produced a publication for NTBG quit before the other eight did because she knew that employee staffing changes were to occur, Georgene Yamada said.

Some of the departing employees have worked for NTBG for more than 20 years.

Because the jobs are unique, the layoffs may mean that some affected workers and their families may have to move off the island, said Georgene Yamada.

With the departure of eight employees, NTBG will have 91 employees who will be responsible for the continued operation of its gardens and preserves, Cox said.

Like many non-profit organizations, NTBG is facing lowered revenues in 2003, Cox said. But unlike many organizations, NTBG resisted down-sizing following

Sept. 11, and kept hoping for an economic upswing.

Although NTBG was created by Congress in 1964, NTBG is privately funded, and “unfortunately can no longer afford to not respond to the national economic downturn,” Cox said.

If the economy improves and the jobs are re-established, the former employees may be rehired, Cox said.

Before the reduction in staff, NTBG had a $7.5 million budget to run the gardens and preserves. Since the employee layoffs, NTBG has had to cut its operating budget by $500,000, due to a reduction in its endowments, Cox said.

The layoffs also will reduce NTBG’s ability to do “outreach programs” for science, conservation and education,” Cox said.

NTBG’s mission, set by Congress, has been to administer gardens of extraordinary beauty while advancing plant conservation, public education, and scientific research,” Cox said.

Staff writer Lester Chang can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) and mailto:lchang@pulitzer.net

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