Faces of recession: Human impact

Steve Brower said the four employees laid off were more than just names on a piece of paper.

Steve Brower knows his company tried everything possible to avoid layoffs. Carolina Starches reduced salaries across the board, including his own, and overtime was kept to a minimum.

However, the small company was hit too hard, losing 30 percent of its business since early last year, when orders were pouring in. As chief financial officer, Brower could see what was ahead.

He knew that the banks that provided the company loans had performance expectations, and that Carolina Starches was having trouble.

In the end, downsizing was the only option: Four of the 26 employees were laid off in January. Brower chose them based on seniority. The last ones hired were the first to go.

No matter who he chose, he could predict the harmful impact on their lives. He knew the employees, their spouses and their children. They attended Christmas parties and company functions together.

He didn't just see the employees' names on the piece of paper, he could picture their whole families. One laid-off employee was especially difficult for Brower to let go, a father with a 3-year-old child.

Since the layoffs, the company has stabilized, but its revenue is still 25 percent down from last year.

He's paying a personal price too. He can see the aging in his face. His wife sees the stress.

But Brower has his eyes on the future, hopeful the economy will turn around, and determined to see Carolina Starches survive.