ATK moving unit to Canton

Minn. - based defense contractor plans to bring 80 workers to city

December 20, 2006|By Allison Connolly | Allison Connolly,SUN REPORTER

One of the nation's largest defense contractors is moving the headquarters of one of its business sectors to Canton Crossing, bringing 80 employees - many with six-figure salaries - to the city.

Edina, Minn.-based Alliant Techsystems Inc., the world's largest producer of solid-fuel rocket motors for the military and NASA, is moving the headquarters of its Mission Systems Group from Minneapolis to Baltimore in January, said group president John J. "Jack" Cronin. The company, which is more commonly known by its NYSE ticker symbol ATK, already employs 586 in Elkton.

"We needed to be closer to our customers, particularly in the Washington, D.C., area," said Cronin, who became president of the group in March and previously headed Raytheon Co.'s operations in Britain. Maryland offered tax breaks and job-training incentives to move the firm here, he said. The state Department of Business and Economic Development did not return a call yesterday seeking comment.

Alliant was No. 29 on the government's list of companies that received the most Defense Department dollars in 2005 and posted sales of $3.34 billion last year. The company is a partner of Bethesda-based Lockheed Martin Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp., Maryland's largest for-profit employer, on many government contracts.

The Mission Systems Group is the largest of Alliant's three business sectors, with 5,000 employees and sales of more than $1.3 billion. The group specializes in advanced weapons, aircraft integration, satellite systems and composite materials for aerospace structures, such as the "skin" on the wings of the next-generation fighter, F-35 Lightning II, which is being built by Lockheed.

Alliant - with the help of tax incentives from the state and Cecil County - saved the former Thiokol Corp. plant in Elkton from closing by acquiring it in April 2001.

That plant is now working on several of Alliant's high-profile contracts. Workers there are designing the propulsion system for the Kinetic Energy Interceptor, a land-based missile defense system being built by a Northrop Grumman-led team for the U.S. Missile Defense Agency that can destroy a hostile threat in flight. On another contract for the Missile Defense Agency, workers there are helping Raytheon build the Standard Missile-3, a sea-based ballistic missile defense system.

Elkton engineers also developed the gas generators that inflated the airbags that allowed the Mars Exploration Rovers to land gently on the red planet in 2003.

The group has locations across the country, and Cronin wants to establish an engineering lab in Canton where customers and employees can collaborate on technology development, both in person and virtually. He said the company will also look to tap talent at the Johns Hopkins University, in the form of collaborations and recruitment. He expects to employ about 100 at the site by the end of next year.

"We're growing at a rapid clip, and we need to think about our succession plan and talent," he said.

Analyst Peter Arment, vice president of Newport, R.I.-based JSA Research Inc., said the company will likely have an economic impact on the area.

"They're an aggressive company, and they tend to spend their own money on research and development to bring products to market that their competitors either haven't or have dropped the ball on," said Arment, who doesn't own shares in ATK.

While the lease is still being finalized, Edwin F. Hale Sr., developer of the property and chairman and chief executive officer of 1st Mariner Bank, called ATK a "quality" tenant.

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