The Pain of Peace


One of the nation's leading defense-industry states during the Cold War era, Maryland is now feeling the pain of peace. The announced closing of Martin Marietta's submarine warfare plant in Glen Burnie, with the loss of 481 jobs, is but the latest in a series of jolts that is far from ended. The situation is such that disappointment over the Glen Burnie closing was mixed with crossed-fingers relief here that the Aero and Naval Systems plant in Middle River, with 1,600 workers, has won a reprieve.

Maryland, of course, is not alone in experiencing the economic impact of a continuing build-down in the Pentagon budget. When a defense plant or a military base is closed, what may be only a smudge in federal spending totals or in the annual report of a huge corporation has an excruciating impact on localities and individuals.

What is unfolding at Martin Marietta is a bold, Draconian strategy to dominate in select fields of military and space technology through hard-nosed acquisitions and layoffs. Westinghouse-style diversification into civilian fields is not on the MM agenda. Consolidation is the way to go in the opinion of Norman R. Augustine, chairman and chief executive officer of what is now the nation's largest military electronics contractor.

Mr. Augustine engineered last year's $3.05 billion purchase of General Electric's aerospace division, and what is happening now at Glen Burnie and a number of other Martin Marietta plants is a direct result of the move toward fewer and larger defense industry operations. He said the hard decision to close down Glen Burnie and consolidate submarine warfare production in Syracuse, N.Y., was "basically arithmetic" and "a matter of economics." The synergies of the two plants were studied, and the better operation ostensibly chosen.

State and local leaders, both in the public and private sectors, should not take such statements literally. No matter how objective corporate officials may try to be, sentiment and psycho-political pressure are bound to play their part in such decisions. Gov. William Donald Schaefer and Rep. Helen Delich Bentley intervened personally to save Middle River, and the governor did what he could to encourage Martin Marietta's welcome moves to add some 160 positions at its Bethesda headquarters and its Catonsville's research lab.

Much as society should welcome the shift from a war to a peace economy on philosophical grounds, this hardly eases the burden for workers flung into a job-short market, or for subdivisions dependent on the defense-related tax revenues, or for real estate in a sea of see-through buildings. Worker retraining has a role, but real relief awaits the revival of the overall economy.

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad