Aerospace giant Lockheed said Friday that it will end operations at its Watts-Willowbrook plant, opened 19 years ago in the wake of the Watts riots to provide jobs in the impoverished neighborhood.
Lockheed said DV Industries, a small aerospace firm that has operated in Watts for 30 years, would take over the lease on Lockheed's factory, where parts for the C-5 cargo plane have been made.
Lockheed's decision to leave the neighborhood ends one of the few successful efforts by a major aerospace firm to employ the underprivileged. Constructed just four years after the destructive Watts riots, the plant was initially controversial within Lockheed.
'None of It Came to Pass'
"I had my own people take issue with me," A. Carl Kotchian, a former Lockheed president, said in a March interview with The Times. "They said I was going to spend a lot of money and the place was going to be run down and there was going to be thievery and muggings at the plant. None of it came to pass."
The plant, instead, matched the performance of most other Lockheed aircraft factories in terms of productivity, efficiency and employee absenteeism.
Lockheed expects to leave the plant, known as the Watts-Willowbrook plant, by October, when work on the C-5 is completed. A spokesman said the aerospace firm had hoped to use the plant for other work, but, with its aircraft business dwindling, no new projects suitable for Watts-Willowbrook materialized.
The departure of Lockheed, one of the few large corporations to have a factory in Watts, is viewed as a blow to the community.
"We had hoped that Lockheed would be able to feed more work to Watts-Willowbrook," said Mark Molli, an aide to Rep. Augustus F. Hawkins (D-Los Angeles). Though pleased that a new employer would be moving into the factory, Molli said, "We're not satisfied. . . . We want to see that the workers are taken care of."
Attempt to Find Jobs
Lockheed said it would try to place Watts-Willowbrook workers with other aerospace firms. It said Douglas Aircraft Co. in Long Beach, a subsidiary of McDonnell Douglas, has hired 22 workers laid off earlier at Watts-Willowbrook.
A Lockheed spokesman said 78 of the 117 Lockheed workers still employed at Watts-Willowbrook have enough seniority to "bump" workers at Lockheed's Burbank aerospace plant. A year ago, the Watts-Willowbrook plant employed 240 people.
DV Industries, which now has 55 employees, said it plans to double its work force over the next year as it expands into the Watts-Willowbrook plant. Carl La Barbera, DV Industries' executive vice president, said his firm plans to hire from the neighborhood, giving priority to ex-Lockheed workers.
"We've been hiring from the community for a long time and we're committed to the neighborhood," La Barbera said.
Negotiating to Buy Plant
La Barbera said DV Industries "had the chance to leave" the neighborhood eight years ago, when its first factory was condemned to make way for the Century Freeway. Instead, the company moved to a new building in the Watts Industrial Park, across the street from Lockheed.
"We were well established here and have a lot of employees who live here who might not be able to make the commute to another location," La Barbera said, explaining the decision to remain in Watts.
La Barbera said DV Industries is negotiating to buy the Watts-Willowbrook plant from its owner, Economic Resources Corp., a non-profit group set up after the Watts riots. Lockheed's 25-year lease included an option to buy the plant, he said.
DV Industries, a privately held firm with sales under $10 million a year, inspects, seals and paints aircraft parts for Lockheed, Boeing and other major aerospace firms.