Layoff losses strike heart of county life Cuts at Westinghouse signal ripple effect

'A substantial impact'

Electronics giant plays community role beyond economics

September 26, 1995|By Shirley Leung and John A. Morris | Shirley Leung and John A. Morris,SUN STAFF

A story in yesterday's Anne Arundel edition of The Sun about Westinghouse Electric Corp. incorrectly stated the amount the Linthicum division has donated to county schools. It is more than $400,000.

The Sun regrets the error.

Westinghouse Electric Corp. is the state's largest private employer. To Anne Arundel County, it also is the church down the street, the ball field on the corner.

The electronics manufacturer, which announced last week that it will lay off 1,000 employees, has played an integral role at every level of county life -- from the parish to the schoolhouse to county government -- for more than 40 years.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

The loss of that many jobs will "be quite a substantial impact," said H. Walter Townsend, president of the Baltimore-Washington Corridor Chamber of Commerce.

"It really ripples throughout, not only the economy, but the social fabric. They are the tutors in the classrooms, people in the synagogues and churches. It's very much a dramatic impact," he said.

Westinghouse, which produced its first military radar at its Linthicum plant in 1952, employs 8,600 workers in Maryland, 7,000 of them at the Electronic Systems Group near Baltimore-Washington International Airport. Although company officials said the layoffs would be spread throughout the nation, most of them would come from Linthicum.

This is the fifth round of layoffs at the Linthicum plant since 1991.

Former County Executive Joseph W. Alton Jr. called the layoffs a "shame" and said Westinghouse was "the luckiest thing in my whole life."

When voters approved charter government and elected Mr. Alton as the first county executive in 1965, he had five days to organize a government. He turned to Westinghouse because it was the only place he could think of that had professional managers and engineers, the kind of expertise he needed to keep the roads paved, the libraries open and the trash collected.

"I didn't want to make it political patronage type of thing," he said.

The company lent him three of its bright stars: Richard McClelland, who be came the first county administrator; Robert Dwight, who took over as director of public works; and John Doyle, a professional purchasing agent.

"They worked for nothing for four months," Mr. Alton recalled.

Mr. Alton said he went to Westinghouse many times after that. "I had never seen, back in those days, a corporation that was so public-spirited. You could go to them for anything, which, of course, I did."

That kind of commitment to the community continues today. The company sends its engineers into area schools to sell youngsters on math and science. It has donated more than $4,000 to those schools to purchase science equipment and other needs.

Over the years, Westinghouse employees and their families have helped shape the county and its neighborhoods. They have organized foundations to buy uniforms for police bicycle patrols, built churches and sponsored summer concerts. They have helped develop an engineering curriculum at Anne Arundel Community College.

"Westinghouse was always encouraging their employees to get involved in the communities where they lived," said County Councilman George F. Bachman, a Linthicum Democrat.

He said at least six Westinghouse families live on his street. "They were more or less a stable force in our county."

Edward Kennedy is one. He moved his wife, Peggy, and two infants from Wilkes-Barre, Pa., to Glen Burnie in 1959 to work the night shift as an electronics technician for $93 a week.

"Everything I have I earned from Westinghouse," said Mr. Kennedy, 60, who retired last year and still serves as president of the North County Chamber of Commerce.

The Pittsburgh-based company found its way to Linthicum during the Korean War to manufacture much-needed radar equipment. In 1950, Westinghouse bought 70 acres adjacent to what then was Friendship Airport for its Electronic Systems Group.

When it opened, Westinghouse had 1,240 workers. A year later, its work force had doubled. The company also has an Oceanic Division near the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

Today, Westinghouse's Electronic Systems Group remains tied to BWI, where it has its own taxiway, and helped create a high-tech business corridor around the airport.

Neil Shpritz, executive director of the BWI Business Partnership, an advocacy group, said Westinghouse has attracted smaller high-tech electronic firms to the area. Meanwhile, former employees have left the company to start their own firms around the airport.

"If history is a guide, [the layoffs] will be precursor to many entrepreneurial firms in the area," Mr. Shpritz said.

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