General Dynamics workers and local businesses last week braced for an uncertain future after the announcement of widespread layoffs at plants in Pomona and Rancho Cucamonga.
"You take this to heart," said Kit Ramos, a single mother who has worked for General Dynamics for five years. Though she hasn't lost her job, she worries about the future.
Her 17-year-old daughter, Jaymes, and 20-year-old son, Neale, have taken jobs at a flower shop and a discount store to bolster the family's financial security. Jaymes said that, while her mother worries about her job, she worries about her mother. "It's like she's stressed," Jaymes said.
The stress comes in the wake of General Dynamics' announcement last week that it would merge the Pomona division and its Valley Systems branch in Rancho Cucamonga, laying off 1,500 to 2,000 employees by the end of next year. Earlier layoffs, beginning in October, 1987, have already cut employment at the Pomona plant to 4,100. The Valley Systems plant employs 3,500.
The consolidation, blamed on Pentagon cutbacks, started at the top with the naming of Michael C. Keel, who had been general manager of Valley Systems, as head of the combined unit, called the Air Defense Systems Division. Sterling Starr, who had run the Pomona division, will be reassigned after assisting in the transition.
The streamlining will leave the company with excess production capacity at its Pomona and Rancho Cucamonga plants. Company officials said no decision has been made on whether to relocate some production lines.
Even with the announced layoffs, General Dynamics probably will remain the largest employer in Pomona, ranking ahead of the Pomona Unified School District with 2,680 employees, Cal Poly Pomona with 2,500, Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center with 2,249 and General Telephone with 2,200.
H. S. (Biff) Byrum, executive vice president of the Pomona Economic Development Corp., said the layoffs are bad news but will not drastically damage the local economy. "It's a different situation for us than if we were some isolated town in the Midwest," he said. Pomona is part of a region with a broad-based economy, he noted, and as employment shrinks in one sector, it grows in another. Besides, Byrum said, "pitifully few" General Dynamics employees live in Pomona.
Of those who work at the Pomona and Rancho Cucamonga plants, 640 live in Pomona, according to company figures. More live in three other cities. Rancho Cucamonga is home to 1,097 General Dynamics employees, Ontario has 723, and Upland 665. Claremont, with 216 residents employed by General Dynamics, ranks ninth, behind Fontana, Chino, Riverside and Rialto.
Steve PonTel, president of the Inland Empire Economic Council, a nonprofit organization that promotes economic growth in Pomona Valley and San Bernardino and Riverside counties, said the region's economy has been so healthy for the past few years that workers laid off by General Dynamics were easily absorbed elsewhere. The problem now, he said, is that the prospective loss of 2,000 jobs at General Dynamics coincides with the anticipated loss of 12,000 jobs from closures at Norton and George Air Force bases in neighboring San Bernardino County and with a national economic slowdown.
In addition, the construction industry, which is the region's most important source of jobs, is facing some uncertainty over interest rates. The area's housing market is already soft, PonTel said, with prices of new homes under $200,000 leveling off, and builders of more expensive homes having difficulty making sales and resorting to extra financial incentives to close deals.
Bill Jones, president of the Pomona Valley Board of Realtors, said the number of houses sold in the Pomona area in June fell by 18% from a year ago, but there are all sorts of factors at work. Plant layoffs, he said, "have an effect, but it's very difficult to measure."
Mike Radlovic, senior marketing consultant with Grubb & Ellis Commercial Real Estate Services in the City of Industry, said a recent surge in construction of small industrial buildings in Pomona could offset some of the General Dynamics layoffs.
He said industrial developers are being attracted by Pomona's low land costs, cheaper by half than comparable land in the City of Industry or West Covina, and by convenient freeway access and a pro-development attitude that contrasts with slow-growth movements elsewhere.
Jerry Hampel, who runs Berliner Kindl, a German restaurant across the street from the General Dynamics plant in Pomona, said it stands to reason that layoffs are going to hurt him but "our business has not gone down at all." Thus far, he said, other customers have come along to replace those who were laid off.
His wife, Margo, said she rarely hears customers from General Dynamics talk about layoffs at lunch because "they want to get away from that. They come in here to relax." But, she added, "every once in a while someone will say, 'Well, I got my pink slip today.' "