Lockheed Martin retiree Mike Wold says he'd gotten used to hearing about downsizing at the company's facility in Eagan in the past few years, but he admits he was taken aback Thursday when he heard about plans to close it for good.
"I guess I thought and hoped they would maybe keep cutting gradually," said Wold, 66, who retired in 1997. "It makes me sad, because there's been so much good work done there."
Lockheed Martin announced Thursday it will close its Eagan facility, laying off or transferring about 1,000 workers by 2013. About 70 percent of the workforce consists of engineers who work on communications systems used on military ships and aircraft, including P-3 surveillance planes.
By the end of the year, employees will find out if they have a future elsewhere with the Bethesda, Md.-based defense giant. The layoffs will be partially offset by the transfer of about 650 jobs from Eagan to Owego, N.Y.; Manassas, Va., and San Diego. Remaining employees will be let go.
The only uncertainty at this point is the future of about 190 Eagan employees who work on air traffic control system software. No decision will be made on their futures until the Eagan complex is closed, according to company spokeswoman Anne Marie Squeo.
At a bar not far from the corporate campus, one longtime employee sharing beers with co-workers said he always assumed he'd be able to work for Lockheed in Eagan until it came time to retire.
"Now that's changed. It flips the picture for you," said the worker, who declined to be named. "It's a pretty sad day for all of us." Plans for Christmas travel, fixing his car and gift spending are now all up in the air, he said.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty sent a letter to the CEO of Lockheed asking for a meeting to discuss keeping the operation open. "I strongly believe the plant's location near the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, the high quality of our workforce and the business-friendly environment in Minnesota are important considerations for continuing operations here," the governor wrote to CEO Robert Stevens. Pawlenty said he would encourage the next governor to consider recommending significant incentives to the Legislature to keep the Lockheed Martin plant in Eagan.
The closing is a blow to Eagan, where Northwest Airlines' headquarters were closed after the airline was acquired by Delta. Those offices are still vacant. Squeo said Lockheed Martin plans to try to sell its 623,000-square-foot facility on 50 acres.
Eagan Mayor Mike Maguire said he hopes to meet with Lockheed Martin officials in the next few weeks to ask them to reconsider their decision. He said he's not concerned about the impact on the city's tax base since either Lockheed or the property's new owner will continue to pay taxes. But he is concerned about employees and the impact on neighboring businesses like shops and restaurants.
"It's a great site, though, and we're confident that, in time, it would be attractive to a major employer," he said.
The Eagan facility has long been a huge source of pride for the state and was frequently visited by state and congressional delegates and showcased in the media for various high profile contracts. It opened in 1946 as a facility for Engineering Research Associates and was later home to the Univac division of Sperry Rand and Loral Corp. It became part of Lockheed Martin in 1996 when Lockheed Martin acquired Loral's electronics and systems-integration business.
Peak employment during the time Lockheed Martin owned the facility was about 3,000 in the late 1990s.
Lockheed said the moves are being done to trim costs and should save it about $150 million over the next 10 years.
Dan McElroy, commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, said Lockheed's news "is not statistically a large loss. But it is a real blow to [employees]." The state will send people to the plant soon to help employees learn how to write résumés and brush up on interviewing and job search skills. He noted that those affected are very highly skilled and may not have trouble finding new jobs.
Staff writers Dee DePass and Wendy Lee contributed to this report. Susan Feyder • 612-673-1723