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Aerospace, Defense Firms Boost Employment

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Aerospace and defense contractors in Orange County pushed up their employment numbers, proving once again in the words of one local flight pioneer, Tustin’s Abe Karem, that “the best place to do aircraft is Southern California.”

Among the 31 companies surveyed and estimated by the Business Journal, the local headcount went from about 24,400 a year ago to over 25,300 in September, a nearly 4% increase.

Gains started at the top.

The Boeing Co.’s operations in Seal Beach and Huntington Beach rose from 6,000 a year ago to an estimated 6,600 employees last month.

That kept Boeing, the world’s largest aerospace company, in the No. 1 spot on the Business Journal’s annual list of the largest aerospace and defense contractors by local headcount.

Boeing’s local numbers have slipped over the past decade—in 2009 the Business Journal reported it having 8,100 jobs here—and the Chicago-based giant continues to shed assets; it sold off two large chunks of Surf City real estate it owned to Irvine real estate developer Sares Regis Group in the past two years. Boeing indicated earlier this year it will relocate some 2,000 workers to other locations in and out of OC as a result of the real estate moves; those changes should result in a drop to the company’s local employment count next year.

However, this year it boosted local figures through the acquisition of airplane seat and galley maker EnCore Group of Huntington Beach. The deal was announced in the summer; terms were undisclosed.

EnCore, co-founded by James Downey, one of OC’s wealthier businessmen, was No. 13 on last year’s edition of the list.

Aircraft cabin interior maker Safran of Huntington Beach moved up two slots to No. 2, with employment remaining steady at 2,800 after a merger with Zodiac Aerospace in 2018. Catherine Malek at Safran’s headquarters in France, said she wasn’t aware of any planned changes in local headcount for the near future.

Panasonic Avionics Corp. of Lake Forest, the largest of several OC firms that make in-flight entertainment and communications systems for airplanes, boosted its employment slightly from 2,338 to 2,352, keeping its No. 3 position on the list.

Landing

Oculus founder Palmer Luckey’s closely watched Anduril Industries Inc., recently named a startup unicorn, had an estimated 100 employees as of last month, taking the No. 28 slot as a newcomer on the list.

Anduril, founded in 2017 and now in Irvine near John Wayne Airport, is aiming for a chunk of the market for protection along the U.S. southern border with the firm’s sophisticated electronic surveillance and artificial intelligence system called Lattice.

Luckey, who sold virtual reality device maker Oculus to Facebook for $3 billion in 2014, recently won a contract to protect four U.S. Marine bases for a reported $13.5 million.

Abe Karem, who dubbed Southern California as the top aircraft site in an interview with the Business Journal last month, boosted the headcount at his eponymous company Karem Aircraft Inc. in Lake Forest from 45 to 60 employees, landing the firm in the 31st and last spot among those on the list.

Karem has set up a spin-off company to collaborate with Uber on a flying pilotless taxi project.

Movers

In other moves upward, GKN Aerospace, a maker of aircraft windows and sheet metal engine components, rose to nearly 700 employees in its two area locations, moving from No. 14 a year ago to the No. 11 spot.

Arconic Fastening Systems of Fullerton, a maker of fasteners, latches, bearings, fluid fillings and installation tools, rose from 620 to 670 employees, ranked No. 12.

Santa Ana-based aerospace manufacturer Ducommun Inc., established in 1849 and carrying the distinction of being California’s oldest continuously running company, edged up from 120 to 127 employees, moving up five places to No. 22.

OC companies paring staff included Meggitt in Irvine, a supplier of high-performance sensor and monitoring systems for extreme environments. It announced in state filings last month it would cut more than 80 local positions. Meggitt and its affiliates count two locations in the area that are represented on the list, combined they rank No. 13.

Kevin Costelloe
Kevin Costelloe
Tech reporter at Orange County Business Journal

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