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Ex-Aerospace Employees Seek a Lifeline : Economy: Engineers bear the brunt of cutbacks in the defense industry. A report singles out the city as one of the hardest hit by the industry's downsizing.


GLENDALE — Losing a job in the aerospace industry these days is a little like being stranded in space, said unemployed Covina engineer Dean Engelhardt.

"It's like stepping through a door, onto the surface of the moon," he said. "That's how much opportunity there is out there."

Engelhardt--jocularly flashing a badge that says, "Unemployed Aerospace Engineer--Will Work For Food"--is one of a dozen out-of-work aerospace workers who gathered recently at the West Covina office of the state Employment Development Department to talk about their dim job prospects.

These are middle-aged, college-educated people for the most part, some with the stunned look of witnesses to a recent disaster, others with the ironic smiles and self-deprecating quips that seem to accompany long-term joblessness.

It comes as no surprise to them that the Los Angeles County Aerospace Task Force, in a report last week on the devastating effects of the aerospace bust, singled out the San Gabriel Valley and Glendale areas as being among the hardest hit.

"You could see it coming," says Engelhardt, 52, who was laid off last April by General Dynamics, the big missile manufacturing company in Pomona.

But for city officials and business leaders, often absorbed by the short-term problems of keeping city budgets balanced, the picture of devastation painted by the task force report came as a troubling revelation.

"I'm still trying to figure out why we're one of the areas of impact," said West Covina City Manager Jim Starbird, whose city's only major aerospace employer is Hughes Simulation Systems.

One reason for the surprise is that aerospace is only a small factor in the service-oriented and retail-oriented region. An employment survey by the San Gabriel Valley Commerce and Cities Consortium shows the more than 60% of the area's employers, and almost 50% of its jobs, were in either services or retailing.

Business people from the area have known for several years now that aerospace companies were starting to shrink. "It's not like it happened yesterday," said Aulden Schlatter, executive director of the Glendale Chamber of Commerce. But the broadening effects of the aerospace problem have left many in the area groping for solutions.

From the Lockheed plant in Burbank, which is relocating to Georgia, to General Dynamics in Pomona, which has laid off half of its workers since 1988, the downsizing of the powerful Southern California defense Establishment in the aftermath of end of the Cold War has left a swath of unemployment and shrunken profits, the report said.

Glendale and the San Gabriel Valley are sprinkled with aerospace companies, not just big contractors like General Dynamics, but small supporting businesses, electronic subcontractors or companies that forge, cast, heat-treat and plate metal.

For most of them, the trend is downward, said the task force report, which predicted the loss of as many as 420,000 jobs in the county by 1995 and a reduction of $84.6 billion in personal income by the end of the century.

Almost a quarter of all the aerospace unemployed last year lived in either Glendale, West Covina, Pomona, El Monte or Pasadena, the report said.

A week after the release of the report, officials from the area are beginning to look for ways of influencing the aerospace sector. For example, members of the San Gabriel Valley consortium, which recently held a conference on keeping businesses in the area, are considering focusing special efforts to retain local aerospace companies.

Glendale City Councilman Carl Raggio, a retired Jet Propulsion Laboratory researcher, wants cities to band together to get state and federal money to retool the aerospace companies as producers of mass transit vehicles.

At city halls, the immediately noticeable effects of creeping aerospace unemployment are in sales tax revenue. "Our car dealers and our retailing sector are both down," Raggio said. "It tells us that people have no money to spend. There's clearly an indirect tie with the aerospace industry, which is one of the major sources of employment."

Then, the effects widen. "People don't buy, they don't go out, they don't invest in property," said Pomona City Manager Julio Fuentes. "That hurts." Ultimately, houses fall into foreclosure and utility bills don't get paid.

The typical defense worker, said the report, is a 38-year-old male homeowner, who is a college-educated family man and a long-term resident of his community. "I suspect that's a pretty fair description of the typical West Covina resident," Starbird said.

For the record, McDonnell Douglas in Monrovia, Aerojet ElectroSystems Co. in Azusa and Hughes in West Covina, among others, report they are holding their own in the shrinking market and have no plans to move out of the state.

The big losers in the area continue to be two companies that were, until recently, among the county's largest employers.

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