L-3 Vertex Aerospace closes

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 27, 2006

54 employees to be laid off

By Cassandra Mickens

The Selma Times-Journal

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L-3 Vertex Aerospace President Daniel Grafton was the bearer of bad news Thursday when he announced the closing of L-3’s Craig Field facility and laid off 54 Selma employees.

For nearly 30 years, L-3 – based in Madison, Miss. – had been a staple Selma company, performing five-year structural inspection services for U.S. Navy T-34 and T-44 aircrafts at Craig Field.

However, the company lost its bid to maintain the T-34 and T-44 fleet for the next four years to Sikorski Support Services Inc. (SSSI). According to a L-3 press-released statement, “(SSSI) has a different plan for five-year inspection services we performed in Selma.”

Grafton said L-3 will officially close Sept. 12. Currently, L-3 has 3,200 Alabama employees working under a 10-year joint venture called Army Fleet Support LLC at Fort Rucker.

“We have been a part of the Selma community for nearly 30 years, almost the entirety of our company’s existence,” he said. “We deeply appreciate the support of our wonderful Selma workforce over the years and the tremendous support of the Selma community.”

“We’ve spent the last several weeks trying to find additional work to come here but we have been unsuccessful,” Grafton added. “When we find the work we’ll be coming back and talking.”

“And we’ll be listening,” said Dallas County Probate Judge Johnny Jones.

“One of the most difficult tasks with which we have to deal is the closing of a facility or business,” Jones said. “A closing always impacts the lives of the employees as well as those of us living in the area.”

“The announcement of L-3 Vertex Aerospace leaving this community certainly saddens us.”

Jones remembers when L-3 staked claim in Selma. In 1978, Beech/Raytheon Aircraft announced its relocation to Craig Field. When the company closed years later, Beech/Raytheon wanted “to maintain a presence in Dallas County and Raytheon kept a repair facility at Craig Industrial Park,” Jones said. “Later L-3 acquired the business and continued their operation at Craig.”

Grafton said L-3 has provided employees with information about aircraft maintenance jobs at other L-3 facilities in the nation, but he suspects the 54 idle want to stay close to home.

“From the look in their eyes, they love Selma,” Grafton said. “It’s a great workforce.”

Wayne Vardaman, president of the Dallas County Centre for Commerce, said L-3’s closing is unfortunate, but truly believes “when one door closes, another one opens.”

“We certainly are concerned about employees and their welfare and we will work with them in any way we can,” Vardaman said. “It’s a negative, but it’s a positive and that’s going to be our approach.”

A positive being vacant hangers at Craig Field, which may very well attract behemoth aircraft companies such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin, Vardaman said. Vardaman added layoffs and plant closings are “a fact of life” and emphasized location is not the reason L-3 is leaving.

State Sen. Hank Sanders agreed with Vardaman, saying “Selma and Dallas County has the best economy that it’s had in 30 or 40 years and the interest in Selma is greater than it’s ever been.”

“The hanger space is there, the opportunity’s there,” Sanders said. “We’re all going to work together to make Selma grow even more.”

Grafton again thanked Selma officials for their support and leadership throughout the years and described L-3’s and Selma’s working relationship as “phenomenal.”

“It has been a wonderful partnership and one that will be sorely missed,” Grafton said.

“And we’re gonna miss them,” said Craig Air Force Base Executive Director Menzo Driskell.

L-3 is the second company to close this month. Southland Mower Corporation closed its doors after 60 years of manufacturing push lawn mowers. According to a report published in the Montgomery Advertiser, Southland Mower Vice-President George Head said 26 full-time and up to 75 part-time employees “already have lost or will lose their jobs” in the foreseeable future.