Middle River word is awaited Announcement expected on whether GE will buy plant

Defense

October 10, 1997|By Greg Schneider | Greg Schneider,SUN STAFF

Lockheed Martin Corp. is likely to announce Monday whether it will sell its historic Middle River aircraft parts plant to General Electric Co., though sources said the company could still act today.

The news had been widely expected by the end of this week.

Area politicians, meanwhile, have tried and failed to get answers from the Bethesda-based defense company.

"We have placed a number of calls," said Rep. Robert Ehrlich, the Republican congressman whose district includes Middle River. "We have nothing definitive."

Factory workers would prefer to hear their fate from General Manager Ray Roquemore, who, Butler-Grinage said, is traveling and will return on Monday.

"I don't think the trust factor would be as great with anyone other than Ray," said Butler-Grinage, whose local represents more than 500 plant workers.

Roquemore has won emotional loyalty from employees by taking the plant from the brink of closure two years ago to expansion and growth.

The 68-year-old factory, where 53,000 workers built bombers during World War II, has rebounded to nearly 1,500 employees after dipping to about 1,000 last December.

Ehrlich said he toured the plant Sept. 19 and left "flying very high" over plans to double the work force to 3,000.

The lawmaker recalled standing outside the gates of the factory during his first election campaign, in 1994, and greeting a work force that was "very demoralized. And I told those guys when I was out there in September, to compare that day to what I saw in 1994 was night and day."

A spokesman for Sen. Barbara Mikulski said she, too, had recently toured the plant and come away dazzled by its potential. The Democratic senator's staff is trying to get a bearing on the situation from Lockheed Martin, said Richard Fiesta, press secretary.

"Her concern is keeping the momentum of the modernization and improvement going there, and obviously retaining the job force," Fiesta said.

The state of Maryland was concerned enough about Middle River in 1993 to provide a $900,000 aid package to help it stay open. Now a spokesman for Gov. Parris Glendening said the governor's main interest is preserving its jobs, which presumably could continue to grow under GE ownership.

The plant's primary product is thrust reversers for jet engines built by GE and Pratt and Whitney.

It also has newly blossoming business making sheet metal and composite parts for planes and winning aircraft repair and maintenance contracts.

GE is expanding into jet engine overhaul markets, as demonstrated by its recent acquisition of UNC Inc. in Annapolis, which works on small aircraft.

Neither Lockheed Martin nor General Electric would comment about the situation, though sources say the companies are exploring a transaction that would involve exchanging Middle River for a huge chunk of Lockheed Martin stock now controlled by GE.

The old Martin Marietta Corp. bought GE's aerospace division in 1993 for $3 billion, and paid a third of that amount in Martin stock.

The deal leaves GE in control of roughly 20 percent of the stock of the company formed after Lockheed and Martin merged in 1995.

Lockheed Martin has offered several packages in a bid to get that stock back, and Middle River is one, sources say.

As they await word on whether GE takes the offer, Middle River workers feel more confident than they did during the closure scares of past years, Butler-Grinage said.

"We're profitable, we're doing really well," she said. "I don't think they're going to close up the facility."

Pub Date: 10/10/97

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