Lockheed Martin plans to close its 465-employee Middle River plant within two years and relocate the work to other company locations, ending more than 90 years of manufacturing at the site.
The decision ends the company’s long history of manufacturing in Middle River, tracing back to its predecessor, the Glenn L. Martin Co., which began building aircraft there in 1929. The plant currently produces vertical launch systems and other equipment for U.S. Navy warships.
“In our ongoing effort to drive down costs for customers and increase efficiency and value, we are consolidating some operations in our Rotary and Mission Systems business to better align employees, technology and facilities to meet customer needs,” the Bethesda-based defense contractor said Friday.
The work in the Lockheed Martin facilities in the Baltimore County plant will be moved out of state,the company said.
Most of the 465 workers will be offered a chance to relocate or telework, with the plant ramping down operations between March and June of 2023, the company said. Most of the jobs would be transferred to other facilities, while 140 people will be asked to telework, allowing them to stay in Maryland.
“It is always disappointing when you have a facility close,” said state Del. Kathy Szeliga, a Republican who represents part of Baltimore County including Middle River. “Middle River and Lockheed Martin has such a rich history of aeronautics.”
Szeliga said she was grateful the company provided notice two years before the expected closure. She said she has been in touch with the state Department of Commerce to ensure displaced workers can get job placement support.
A spokeswoman for the state Department of Commerce said the agency planned to support any displaced workers with help finding new jobs.
“Lockheed Martin has taken steps to mitigate as much as possible the impact of this closure on its employees and work to place them in alternate positions within the company over the next two years,” said Karen Glenn Hood, the spokeswoman.
The Middle River plant works on ship systems and small combatants programs, including the MK 41 Vertical Launching System, next-generation launching systems, ship controls and automation. It also provides engineering for Navy combat ships designed for close-to-shore operations.
Lockheed Martin’s predecessor, the Glenn L. Martin Aircraft Co., once employed tens of thousands of workers in Middle River. During World War II, the company produced thousands of aircraft and bombers, including the workhorse B-26 Marauder.
The company’s founder, Glenn L. Martin, bought the land in Middle River in 1928 to build and test aircraft. With the wartime boom, employment grew from 3,500 workers to a peak of 53,000. Housing for employees sprouted near the plant.
The company merged with American-Marietta Corp. to form Martin Marietta in 1961 and began producing missiles, space hardware and guidance systems. Employees built the Titan II rocket in the 1960s.
Growing up in Middle River, Del. Richard K. Impallaria remembers as a kid seeing buildings still camouflaged from wartime.
“Middle River was really built up around the Lockheed Martin facility,” said Impallaria, a Republican, who said he was shocked by the closing announcement. “It is a one-of-a-type operation where you actually have a large airfield and the plant, all together in one. … I feel sorry for the people that are at the plant and their lives get turned upside-down.”
Lockheed Martin was formed in 1995, when Martin Marietta merged with Lockheed Aircraft. Lockheed sold a large part of its operation, including the historic factory, two years later, to General Electric, which formed Middle River Aircraft Systems in 1998 to make parts for jet engines. In 2019, ST Engineering, a global aerospace and engineering giant based in Singapore, acquired that plant and renamed it Middle River Aerostructure Systems.
Lockheed Martin will maintain its corporate air operations at Martin State Airport and retain ownership of its newer manufacturing building at the Middle River site, just west of the airport. The closure will have no impact on Lockheed’s corporate headquarters in Bethesda or its other facilities in the state.
The defense giant employs more than 3,150 people in Maryland, with 32 facilities and 569 suppliers, supporting nearly 100 small businesses across the state. The state is home to the company’s Cyber Security Center of Excellence, which employs around 600 people in Hanover, Annapolis Junction, Linthicum, Fort Meade and Rockville. Lockheed said it expected to hire additional workers for cybersecurity jobs.
Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. said Friday the county’s workforce development team would be available to help any workers who lose jobs in the upcoming consolidation.
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“While we are encouraged that most employees will be given an option to continue working in Maryland, we are disappointed that this news signals an end to the Lockheed plant’s storied chapter in our county’s history,” Olszewski said in a statement. The county “will work to ensure the site is put to productive use in the years ahead.”
Impallaria said he hoped another contractor or manufacturer would move into the facility or that Lockheed would end up with another contract and change plans. It has done that before — most recently in 2016 when it reopened a retooled missile launcher production line in Middle River.
“They are a defense contractor, and we’ve just changed administrations, and they have to look at the future of how much money this administration is going to spend on defense contracts,” the delegate said.
The site, with access to rail, an airport and highways, would be suitable for another heavy manufacturer or distributor, Impallaria said.
“We need to find innovative ideas to bring business back into there,” he said.