APL's Painful Ripples

March 29, 1995

It is easy in this era of downsizing to lose sight of the full impact of industry layoffs. A ripple effect often reverberates well beyond those workers receiving pink slips, delivering a stinging blow throughout a region's economy.

That will likely be the fallout of 350 layoffs at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Scaggsville announced this week. The plan is expected to affect more than 200 of the facility's 2,750 full-time workers and 140 of 700 contractual employees.

Hardest hit will be Howard County, where APL is the largest private employer. But the broader Baltimore-Washington corridor will be hurt as well since the lab draws much of its personnel from Montgomery and Baltimore counties and beyond.

Many of the well-paid scientists and engineers who lose their jobs are likely to find difficulty sliding into similar work in a shrunken defense environment. Since the late 1980s, three of the state's leading military contractors, Martin Marietta, Westinghouse and AAI Corp., have cut a total of 12,000 jobs.

In addition, the Applied Physics Laboratory layoffs come as the state of Maryland aims to remake its economic mix for the 21st century, accentuating Howard's potential as an anchor for high-tech development. County officials, in fact, insist that new job creation in those fields will absorb much of the idled brain power.

The cut in jobs also means a loss of income for Howard County at a precipitous time. The APL layoffs aren't expected until May, so the impact on county income tax revenues will not be felt for more than a year. The timing for such an occurrence is never good, but particularly not now. Howard officials already project a $2 million shortfall for the current fiscal year. And in Montgomery County, likely to be the jurisdiction hit next hardest by the layoffs, officials are attempting to erase a projected $80 million budget shortfall.

The layoffs will soften an already anemic housing market in the immediate area. And the hardships won't end there. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates that the loss of 100 jobs can trigger another dozen job cuts in food service, 46 in motor vehicle repair, 36 in the hospitality industry, 22 in health service and 53 in finance. From economic, historic and social perspectives, the APL layoffs will be significant and painful to the Howard County community -- and the entire region -- on multiple levels.

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