Faced with the cancellation of a large 2009 travel-reward program for a West Coast automotive client, Excellence in Motivation, a Dayton, Ohio–based provider of incentive and performance improvement services, laid off 34 of its 250 employees last month.

These are the first layoffs in the company’s 15 years in business, according to Bob Miller, president and CEO. “We had a late cancellation and had to make some adjustments to our cost structure,” he says. “There is no positive spin on that. We hate doing it.” The layoffs affected the company’s travel management professionals and support staff. Employees who lost their jobs were given severance packages, and Miller says he is meeting with laid-off employees “to help them network and reposition themselves” in the work force.

But while travel-reward programs are experiencing a slowdown, the company is seeing growth in its marketing and technology services divisions and is currently hiring in these areas. “Unfortunately, it’s a skill-set mismatch,” says Miller of the company’s inability to redeploy laid-off employees into the new roles. “Travel account managers typically have different skill sets than technology professionals.”

While the automotive client’s cancellation has had a huge impact on the company, Miller says he is not seeing broad-based cancellations outside of the auto industry at this time. And he is “cautiously optimistic” about the coming year. “I think you will start to see people spend more aggressively by the second half of 2009.”

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