The computer crash that many are anticipating for the year 2000 is making Phyliss Murphy very happy. Murphy, president of P. Murphy & Associates, runs a Burbank-based employment agency that places high-tech specialists in temporary jobs at major Los Angeles firms. And with many companies making sure their computers are reprogrammed to accommodate the rollover to the year 2000, business has never been better. “We need the temporary staff to be in compliance for the year 2000,” said Harold Corner, vice president of information technology at Glendale-based Baskin-Robbins USA Co. “(Hiring temps) is definitely the way corporations are dealing with staffing demands during peak times.” Since she began in 1981, Murphy has secured more than 150 corporate clients. In addition to Baskin-Robbins, she works with Twentieth Century Fox, American Honda, American Red Cross, Century-National Insurance Co., Dreamworks SKG and Foundation Health, to name a few. Company revenues nearly doubled from $9.5 million in 1993 to $18 million in 1996; last year, the company saw sales rise to $21 million. “It has been a solid business for years,” said Murphy. “Corporations always need computer assistance.” More than 250 P. Murphy consultants set up networks, create databases and provide technical support and training. A computer consultant herself, Murphy was working for a temporary computer-staffing company that went bankrupt when she decided to try her hand at a similar enterprise. She collected about $25,000 from the sale of some stocks and started operations out of a cramped apartment in Toluca Lake. The business took off slowly until Murphy won a contract to provide nine consultants to Valencia-based U.S. Borax Inc. at the end of her first year in business. With that account in tow, she continued picking up new clients. Then came a new tax law in 1987 that required temporary employment agencies to take payroll deductions from the consultants who worked for them rather than treat them as independent contractors. Murphy said that a number of her competitors ignored the law, and P. Murphy lost more than two-thirds of its workforce to those rivals until the Internal Revenue Service began an enforcement campaign that put her company back on equal footing. “I basically had to rebuild my business from that point on,” said Murphy. “I didn’t give up. This business is like my child. I had to push forward.” Today, Murphy and 12 full-time employees dispatch about 250 consultants from the company’s Burbank offices. Though it sometimes handles recruitment for permanent positions, most of its work is centered on helping companies fix problems that don’t require permanent staffing. Preparing for the year 2000 is one example. Older computer equipment was not designed to handle the transition required to go to dating that ends with “00,” and systems require reprogramming in order to avoid malfunctioning on Jan. 1, 2000. Other assignments take Murphy’s consultants all over the world. Universal Studios Inc., based in Universal City, sent them to Tokyo to help with computer programming in that office. Twentieth Century Fox needed programmers to revive a failing computer network in Mexico. P. Murphy temps also devised a debit card system for all Arco gas stations and spent a year going around the country teaching station owners and operators to use the new technology; they also reprogrammed computers for an Atlantic Richfield Co. oil refinery. “It is a matter of efficiency, economics and time,” said Doug Johnston, executive vice president at Los Angeles-based Platinum Equity Holdings. “We could run an ad, interview, take a lot of time. These people are professionals it’s better to let them do it.” Another reason companies prefer to use temporary help is that information technology upkeep is cyclical, and hiring temporary workers avoids layoffs when the assignment is over. “You want to have a reputation as a good employer,” said Corner. “If you are hiring and laying people off all the time that is not productive.” In the last 12 months, temporary high-tech pros have been in unprecedented demand. Los Angeles has suffered a shortage of computer experts who are available for short-term projects. As a result, rates for the consultants have jumped 20 percent to 35 percent. Consultants get anywhere from $20 an hour for setting up a simple network to $125 an hour for a complicated programming task. P. Murphy charges clients for the workers’ wages plus a finder’s fee that ranges from $7,500 to $15,000 for the job. These days Murphy spends a lot of her time working to retain her current clients and attract new ones. Her six sales representatives cold call companies on a regular basis. She also advertises in local newspapers and targets direct mail promotions at large companies. “I don’t want to be huge. I want to give good quality service,” said Murphy. “I want to grow, but the most important thing is maintaining service.” SPOTLIGHT P. Murphy & Associates Year Founded: 1981 Headquarters: Burbank Core Business: Placing high-tech computer consultants into temporary and permanent jobs. Employees in 1993: 3 Employees in 1998: 12 Revenues in 1993: $9.5 million Revenues in 1997: $21.5 million Top Executive: Phyliss Murphy, president Goal: To retain a select group of computer consultants able to handle a diverse range of corporate programming needs. Driving Force: Businesses that have short-term computer needs.