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Alliant Techsystems Inc. is preparing to lay off up to 100 workers next month as it continues to adjust the size of its workforce to deal with the end of the nation's space shuttle program.
The company, which made the twin solid-fuel booster motors used to propel the shuttle into low-Earth orbit, said it has yet to determine how many of its workers will be let go. The pending reduction will be the sixth layoff for the company's aerospace systems group in the past two years.
"While we don't yet know the exact number, we can say that this will be our smallest layoff yet," said spokeswoman Trina Patterson.
In April, ATK laid off 134 employees in what was, up to then, its smallest reduction in force since 2009, when the space shuttle program began to wind down.
ATK's aerospace systems group, which has reduced its workforce by nearly 2,200 since early 2009, has about 3,500 employees. They represent the vast majority of ATK's contingent in Utah.
Patterson said the company informed its remaining staff of the impending August layoff several weeks ago, before the space shuttle Atlantis took off July 8 for the International Space Station in what would be the program's final launch.
The space shuttle's end, though, doesn't mean that ATK is through building solid-fuel rocket motors.
The company is continuing to develop a five-segment motor under contract to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration for the proposed space launch system, or heavy launch vehicle. NASA plans to test-fire one of those five-segment motors at its Promontory plant west of Brigham City in September.
"It is a bittersweet time for us," said spokesman George Torres. "While we are sad to see the end of what for us was an iconic program, we're looking forward (as a company) to new business opportunities."
And one of those opportunities is represented by the completion of the company's $100 million aircraft component manufacturing plant in Clearfield, where officials are in the process of hiring an initial workforce of 100 employees for production startup.
The plant, which will manufacture composite-fiber airframe components for the Airbus A350 commercial jet and parts for General Electric and Rolls Royce aircraft engines, is expected to create as many as 800 high-paying jobs over the next 20 years, generating almost $1 billion in wages along the way.
Torres said last month that former ATK employees are welcome to apply for jobs at the Clearfield plant but will not receive preferential consideration. "We have had layoffs in the launch side of our business, but these new jobs demand a certain skill set where experience in composite-fiber technology is essential."
Jeff Edwards, president of the Economic Development Corp. of Utah, said he understands that the layoffs at ATK have been painful and disruptive for those who lost their jobs.
Yet looking at the big picture, he said, having an available workforce of highly educated engineers and other technically savvy personnel offers opportunities for local aerospace businesses that are expanding, as well as others considering relocating to the state.
ATK's space shuttle-related layoffs
March 2009 • 300 employees
July 2009 • 550
December 2009 • 800
September 2010 • 414
April 2011 • 134
August 2011 (pending) • up to 100 employees