BAE Systems, the world’s second-largest defense contractor, will close its Anniston vehicle upgrade and overhaul facility on Coleman Road by Dec. 31, according to a press release emailed Wednesday from the company. The company said all of the facility’s 145 employees will be released from their contracts by the end of December. The layoffs are part of a national trend of military cutbacks that is expected to continue as the country maintains its wartime drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan, local officials say.
Nathan Hill, military liaison for the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce, said he was a little surprised that the facility was being shut down, but not about the layoffs.
“I think it’s something that’s been happening for a while,” Hill said of military business cutbacks. “It’s all part of the drawdown.”
The company says the closure is needed due to a decrease in the use of tracked combat vehicles by the military, which has resulted in less need for vehicle maintenance. Workers at the closing BAE facility perform upgrades and overhauls on the military’s M113 and M88 armored vehicles.
According to the press release, “the site closure in no way reflects upon the work and dedication of the employees and we will do all we can to assist them in this difficult transition. We also understand the impact this action will have on the community.”
Sherri Sumners, overseer of the chamber’s federally funded Operation: 1st RATE program, set up to help people laid off due to military cutbacks find new jobs, agreed with Hill that the latest layoffs were not a surprise.
“All we have to do is look at the defense industrial base nationally — we’re going to see these types of moves,” Sumners said.
Sumners noted her program will be available for the displaced BAE workers.
Anniston has been no stranger to military layoffs in recent months. BAE Systems started laying off 155 employees in December. Anniston Army Depot officials in January announced more than 562 short-term depot workers would lose their jobs once their contracts expired later in the year. However, new work from the National Guard, the Army Reserve, Saudi Arabia and Iraq has ensured that about 386 of the 562 workers will keep their jobs through at least March.
Also, many workers have lost their jobs or will soon lose their jobs as final efforts are made to close the Anniston chemical weapons incinerator. According to incinerator contractor Westinghouse Anniston, the company downsized its workforce by approximately 100 positions over the last year through attrition, transfers of employees to other sites and voluntary departures. It also released 28 people from their contracts in April. There are still approximately 696 Westinghouse Anniston employees at the incinerator, completing various jobs such as decontamination, dismantling and demolition at the facility.
“Everyone’s got to realize this is a national problem, not just a state problem,” Anniston Mayor-elect Vaughn Stewart said of the layoffs. “And as a city, we must have more offense instead of defense as far as creating new jobs.”
Stewart said he planned to meet with chamber of commerce and state economic development officials Friday about the issue.
“I think as far as the community, our first concern should be to help those workers replace those jobs,” Stewart said.
To Robert Robicheaux, chairman of the department of marketing, industrial distribution and economics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the loss of 145 jobs would not be that big of problem economically if it were an isolated incident.
“But the significance of this is it is a trend, another domino falling on the table,” Robicheaux said. “And it will continue to happen as long as we have cutbacks in programs that these companies participate in.”
Robicheaux said the economic impact from the job losses will trickle down from the families involved to local businesses.
“All the groceries and clothing those families bought and the businesses they supported will be affected,” he said.
While BAE is shutting down one operation, its other two Anniston facilities will remain open. Those include the company’s logistics center, which employs 42 people and its forge facility, which has 207 workers.
Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3531. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.