Maryland's struggling defense industry took another direct hit yesterday when Grumman Corp. announced it would close its military aircraft cable plant in Salisbury, eliminating 244 jobs by the end of next year.
The Grumman move will be particularly painful for this Eastern Shore town because loss of the well-paying jobs comes on the heels of Campbell Soup Co.'s decision to close its plant there this summer, laying off about 830 workers.
a tragic loss for the community," said Robert L. Kiley, the Wicomico County economic development director. "This is going be painful, very painful."
Mr. Kiley said the county has been successful in creating new jobs in recent years but expressed his concern that the Campbell and Grumman workers would likely be forced to take jobs paying $100 to $150 a week less because they will lose seniority earned with their previous employers.
"It's a blow," said Salisbury's mayor, Paul Martin, "but it's not going to put us back on our heels. We'll weather the storm and move ahead."
Mr. Martin noted that Grumman was a major supporter of civic activities, including Little League baseball, with both dollars and people.
The announcement also came as a blow to the state, which ranks fifth in the nation for dependency on military spending.
Maryland has suffered from Pentagon budget cuts over the past few years. Westinghouse Electric Corp. has eliminated nearly 4,500 workers from its Linthicum division while Martin Marietta Corp. has cut its Middle River and Glen Burnie work force by about 900.
AAI Corp., in Cockeysville, has eliminated nearly 2,000 jobs since 1987.
Grumman, with headquarters in Bethpage, N.Y., and perhaps best known for its production of the F-14 fighter plane, cited a declining defense budget and a need to cut costs as reasons for the closing. In addition to the Eastern Shore plant, the company said it would shut two others, at Great River, N.Y., and Webster, Texas.
Edward W. Urban, manager of the Salisbury plant, said he does not expect the layoffs at Salisbury to begin until early next year as contracts are phased out. Any work not completed by the end of 1994, he said, would be transferred to other Grumman facilities.
Larry Hamilton, a Grumman spokesman, said yesterday's announcement followed a six-month study by the company, which looked at the manufacturing space of the entire corporation, including its machining plant in Glen Arm in Baltimore County.
Mr. Hamilton added that the future of the Glen Arm plant remained unclear.
"It would appear to be safe for at least some time," he said. "It's not on the list [of plant closings] at this time, but that is not to say it won't happen six months or a year from now."
Paul F. Causey Jr., manager of the Glen Arm plant, said it has about 120 workers, down from 280 four years ago.
The Salisbury plant opened in 1985 in a former garment factory with great fanfare. Projecting that it would eventually employ up to 1,000 workers, state officials compared it at the time to landing the General Motors' Saturn project, another eco
nomic development gem the state had pursued. GM later selected a site in Spring Hill, Tenn., for the Saturn plant.
Grumman never came close to providing 1,000 jobs at the plant, reaching nearly 550 at its height in 1990. Layoffs in recent years trimmed the work force to its current level of 244.
Mr. Urban said most jobs there paid between $11 and $12 an hour and that the plant's payroll was about $5.3 million last year.
During a management meeting with workers yesterday morning, Urban said the question was raised about whether Grumman employees who leave to take another job would be eligible to keep severance pay. Mr. Urban said that no decision had been reached.
Workers at the Salisbury plant produced electric cables and wire harnesses used in Grumman's military planes, including the F-14 Tomcat, A-6 Intruder, E-2C, EA-6B Prowler and the C-2A. Mr. Hamilton noted that all of these planes had ceased production with the exception of the E-2C, a carrier-based radar plane, "of which we probably produce four a year."