The downturn in the U.S. economy has caused hundreds of thousands of Americans to be laid off from their jobs. Several corporations are bucking the trend, insisting that keeping their workers on the payroll, even in difficult times, gives them a competitive edge.

Few industries are hurting more than the U.S. airline industry these days, and as a result, few industries are laying off more workers.

But at Southwest Airlines there is no talk of layoffs, and, spokesman Ed Stuart says, in the company's 30-year history there never has been. He said, "We sold a plane in order to make payroll back in the early 70s because we didn't want to lay anybody off, and what we've done this time is just a lot of belt tightening."

Mr. Stuart says Southwest Airlines discovered long ago that holding onto workers even in troubled times creates powerful corporate loyalty.

It also forces a company to cut costs and figure out innovative ways to spur productivity, and that, he says, enhances the ability to compete. Mr. Stuart said, "There's a reason we are always named one of the best companies to work for in America. There's a reason that in any given year, 150,000 people will apply to work at Southwest Airlines and we will hire about five people."

A flood of illegally traded steel imports has pushed more than 20 U.S. steel companies into bankruptcy. But Nucor Steel President Dan DiMicco predicts his firm will be among the two or three U.S. steel firms showing a profit this year.

He says Nucor's no-layoff policy has a lot to do with the company's success. Mr. DiMicco said, "Everything comes at a price, and the price for our employees is we have to remain the most competitive, the lowest cost producer in our business. And as long as we can do that, then we will be able to enjoy the benefits of a no layoff policy. Our people work extremely hard from top to bottom to maintain our competitive position."

To cut costs, he says some Nucor employees are working only four days a week and there will be no bonuses for senior executives. Mr. DiMicco says those bonuses usually make up 66 percent of Nucor executives' pay. "Our policy," he said, "is to share the pain and share the gain. And what we do is cut back the work week, but we don't let people off."

Mr. DiMicco says history has proven that Nucor's no-layoff policy is good for company morale and good for business.