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Laid-off workers: Where do they go from here? // He got the boot, so now he's taking the plunge

An occasional series about four Tampa Bay residents coping with life after losing their jobs.

For the last time, Gary Greer reached up and clicked off the computer. The screen went black.

Greer gave the machine a pat and sighed: "This has been my friend for a while."

So ended Greer's nearly 16-year career at AT&T Paradyne.

The company's soon-to-be-former creative director had already told his human friends goodbye, those still left on the company's sprawling campus.

He walked quickly between the maze-like cubicles, stopping to stand on his tiptoes and peek over the cubicle walls, looking for his co-workers.

"It's so quiet," he said. "It used to be a beehive. You used to hear people talking and phones ringing."

But that was before the September news came down, announcing 8,500 layoffs at the 302,000-employee company. Things had been quiet since then. This day, Nov. 16, was the last day at work for nearly 200 at the company's Largo office, but many had already packed up and left early with the company's blessing.

But Greer, 43, stayed until the end. It was the super-charged Macintosh computer that kept him coming back.

These days, high-powered Macintoshes are necessary tools for many graphics artists. While Greer has a computer at home, it lacks the sophistication and power of the one at work.

So Greer spent his last weeks at Paradyne going on job interviews, networking at professional meetings, polishing up his computer skills and wrestling with a growing dilemma.

The layoff put Greer at a crossroads in his career path. While he thought at first he would just look for a job at another company, the longer he looked the more another possibility presented itself _ self-employment.

He had people offering to pay him for outside work, including several who commissioned paintings from him. The problem was, it would take as much as $10,000 in computer equipment to start his own business. Greer wasn't sure whether to take the plunge. He even painted a picture about what he was going through and called it "Moment of Decision."

Unlike some people who face layoffs, Greer has been determined from the beginning to make the best of it. It helps that his wife, Debbie, has a good job as vice president of human resources for Havatampa Inc. in and that they have no children to support.

Greer has begun to think of the layoff as an opportunity to do something he might not have tried otherwise. And the more he thinks about it, the more excited he gets about the possibilities.

"I have got so many opportunities," he said.

One came the day after his last day at Paradyne.

"I got an offer and I let it go," Greer said, not because it wasn't a good offer, but because he had decided to take the plunge and go into business for himself.

"That was kind of a breathtaking moment," he said. But after he made the decision he felt better. "I actually had trouble sleeping there for a while," he said.

Still, the uncertainties of being in business for himself are still there. But until he will still collect a paycheck from Paradyne and that should help ease the transition.

"Check back with me in six months," he said.

Gary Greer

Age: 43

Former Job: Creative director for AT&T Paradyne

Prospects: Going into business for himself.

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