Northrop Grumman Corp. said Monday it plans to add 920 jobs to its operations in Melbourne as part of a companywide realignment, nearly doubling the Brevard County plant's current work force and making Florida a winner -- at least for now -- in the defense industry's latest consolidation.
Falls Church, Va.-based Northrop selected the Melbourne unit to serve as its "manned-aircraft center of excellence" -- one of five new centers it intends to establish to make itself more cost-efficient and competitive, company officials said.
The company's St. Augustine plant will gain 80 jobs as Northrop's new aircraft-integration center of excellence.
Central Florida's gain means the loss of an unspecified number of jobs, at least in the short term, for Northrop's operations in Bethpage, N.Y., the company said. Also not known: How many jobs will be eliminated companywide as as result of the consolidation, which will take two years to complete.
Company spokesman Randy Belote said Northrop plans to work with displaced workers to fill openings in other areas of the company. He noted that Bethpage will become Northrop's center of excellence for electronic-attack and cyber-warfare systems -- a fast-growing area that is expected to generate some new jobs.
Northrop Grumman's consolidation comes at a crucial time for the defense industry, which is scrambling to deal with large cuts in military spending in the wake of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the arrival last week of the "sequester" -- across-the-board, deficit-reduction spending cuts in the federal budget that officially started Friday.
"Given the current budget environment, it is imperative that we act to enhance future performance, innovation and affordability for our customers," Northrop's chief executive officer, Wes Bush, said in a prepared statement.
Northrop's Melbourne unit is best known for its work on the Joint STARS aircraft, the Air Force's long-range, battlefield-radar plane, which has played a key role in all U.S. war operations since the 1990 Persian Gulf War.
The Melbourne operation stands to lose something in the consolidation -- an airborne ground-surveillance program for NATO that will move to a company unit in San Diego, Calif. -- though that is not expected to result in layoffs.
Northrop's expansion plans in Melbourne come at a critical time for Central Florida, particularly the Space Coast, which lost more than 9,000 jobs when NASA ended the U.S. space-shuttle program in 2011. The region has also lost more than 3,000 defense jobs in recent years, in part as a result of downsizing at Northrop Grumman's laser-weapon-systems plant in Apopka, which has cut more than half of its work force since 2009.
With that as a backdrop, Northrop's Melbourne announcement was welcome news, political leaders said.
"These are highly technical jobs, good-paying jobs, and this is an enormous boost to our ecoomy," said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla. "But this is a tough announcment for Northrop Grumman, because they are consolidating operations all over the country. They will either be downsizing or closing some operations. And Florida ends up being the winner."
State officials said Northrop's move was a big vote of confidence for Florida.
"Northrop Grumman's continued investment in the state is a testament to Florida's competitiveness and supportive business climate," said Gray Swoope, the state's secretary of commerce and chief executive of Enterprise Florida, the state's economic-development arm.
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