The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) -- Howard County's largest private employer -- expects a $46.2 million cutback in its Navy contract this fiscal year, which would force new austerity measures fiveear Laurel have instituted sick-leave reduction and energy conservation, but say they do not expect more layoffs.
"At this point, there is nothing that [APL officials] see to suggest that we're in any trouble," said Helen Worth, a spokeswoman for the 3,100-worker research lab. "There isn't a RIF [reduction in force] on the horizon for us."
APL, which conducts high-level research on submarines, missiles and satellites, has been told to expect authorization for up to $382.8 million for the fiscal year that started Sunday, under a three-year Navy contract signed last year, Ms. Worth said.
That's less than the $429 million the lab was told it could expect annually under the three-year contract, which must be renewed each year. This year's portion is expected to be signed by the end of the month.
Late last year, APL dismissed talk of layoffs and worked to find other ways to compensate for what ended up being a $60 million cut in Navy funding.
In the end, it cut 100 workers from the lab's temporary contract staff in early May and 158 full-time workers later that month.
The lab is just one of the state's major defense contractors that have been hammered by Pentagon cutbacks in recent years. For example, Westinghouse Electric Corp. announced last month that it would cut 1,000 jobs at its Linthicum complex -- the fifth round of job losses at Westinghouse Electric Systems since 1991.
Since the peak of defense employment in 1988, the state's leading military contractors have cut more than 13,200 employees.
This year's layoffs at APL were the first major staff reduction since it opened in 1942. Two years ago, APL laid off 23 people and 100 others took early retirement.
Last year, APL attributed its Navy cutback to general reductions in defense spending and to loss of a National Aeronautics and Space Administration project and other government-related projects that came under the Navy contract.
To avoid more layoffs, APL has been stepping up its search for nondefense contracts to supplement its budget. Nondefense funding -- about $110 million -- is expected to make up almost a third of the lab's budget, said Jim Wyant, APL's budget officer.
However, the new nondefense contracts are not expected to match this year's projected $46.2 million cut in Navy funding.
"Generally things look pretty good," Mr. Wyant said. "We are going to have some difficulties."
The projected cuts have raised concerns in Howard County's business community about future layoffs in a county that has been fighting to increase jobs. There have been successes -- a growth in the countywide work force of 5 percent a year over the past two years -- but another major layoff at APL could stifle that growth.
"Our economy is not prepared to handle layoffs by large businesses," said Richard Story, executive director of the Howard County Economic Development Authority. "The economy continues to be fairly robust but there are not enough high-tech jobs."
Mr. Story said the authority has encouraged APL workers laid off this summer to start businesses that will create more high-technology jobs. And existing businesses that have jobs requiring technical skills have been asked to hire former APL workers, he said.
In July, Paul Piatz, 27, of Columbia's Kings Contrivance village was hired at Marble Source Unlimited, an Annapolis Junction stone manufacturer, after he received his layoff notice from APL.
Mr. Piatz, a contract employee at APL, was a machine operator who crafted parts for satellites. Defense cuts in general have raised concern among many technically skilled workers, he said.
"There just doesn't seem to be much of a future in it," he said. "I was glad I was able to find a job in the manufacturing business."