President Donald Trump on Friday said he asked the chief executive of Lockheed Martin to keep open the Sikorsky helicopter facility near Coatesville, Chester County, that the company recently announced would be closed by the end of the year.
“Just spoke to Marillyn Hewson, CEO of @LockheedMartin, about continuing operations for the @Sikorsky in Coatesville, Pennsylvania. She will be taking it under advisement and be making a decision soon...” the president tweeted at 6:37 p.m.
“ … While Pennsylvania is BOOMING, I don’t want there to be even a little glitch in Coatesville — every job counts. I want Lockhead to BOOM along with it!” he wrote in a follow-up.
Less than an hour earlier, Lockheed tweeted a statement from Hewson that said the president had called her on Friday “to discuss the pending closure of our Coatesville PA operation. We had an open and constructive conversation and I agreed to explore additional options for keeping the facility open.”
Lockheed spokesperson Callie D. Ferrari confirmed the statement.
Earlier this month, the company announced that it plans to close the plant by the end of this year. The firm has 465 employees in its 24-acre campus at 110 Stewart-Huston Dr. The site has three buildings, two of which are leased and a third, called the Heliplex, will be put up for sale, the company has said.
In a letter to U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D., Pa.), who represents the district, Sikorsky boss Dan Schultz said this month that the company didn’t have enough orders to keep Coatesville open, so it would shut down later this year when it finished six replacement helicopters for the Marine One choppers currently in use by the president.
Six additional presidential helicopters were to be made at Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky plant in Connecticut.
Houlahan had asked the company to reconsider, and introduced a bill that could slow down the helicopters’ production by requiring the Army to study the shutdown’s impact on U.S. defense production before fully funding the work, as if to force the company to keep Coatesville open a while longer. UPDATE 6/15: Houlahan said her proposal got “unanimous” support from the House Armed Services Committee in a Thursday vote.
“I am glad that President Trump joined our fight late (Friday) and, despite our many disagreements, stand ready for him to work with us on protecting Pennsylvania jobs,” Houlahan said in a statement Saturday.
Schultz, in his response to the congresswoman’s earlier letter, said the Coatesville closing would have no effect on suppliers or helicopter availability because resources are already committed to other projects.
But Houlahan, Chester County Chamber of Commerce president Guy Ciarrocchi, and other Chester County leaders said they were actively looking for alternative jobs Lockheed Martin might perform at the plant and other possible operators for the facility, which was expanded using Pennsylvania state aid.
(UPDATE 6/15:) Rep. Houlahan “was able to secure a meeting with a senior leadership team member from Sikorsky" to talk about plans for Sikorsky’s Heliplex at the Coatesville site, the company’s timetable for its proposed shutdown, and employee “transition” support, Michelle Kichline, elected chairman of the Chester County Commissioners and a Republican, added in a statement Saturday. That meeting is scheduled for July 1.
Besides putting hundreds out of work, elected officials worry a shutdown would cut tax collections for the Coatesville Area School District, and for Sadsbury Township, where the plant is located. Ripples of the pending Sikorsky closure will affect related businesses and organizations in the Coatesville area, especially Sadsbury Township where the site is located
“Sadsbury Township will be directly impacted through an earned income tax as well as an Emergency Medical Services fee, the reduction of which, according to Dave Reynolds, could even impact the funding of further law enforcement support for the township,” said county commissioner Terence Farrell in a statement.
Chester County is the wealthiest -- based on income per capita -- of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties, and parts of the Great Valley and U.S. 1 corridors have retained their old industrial base, where investors have continued to modernize factories and warehouses.
Kichline in her statement noted the county’s unemployment rate, 2.6 percent, is the lowest in Pennsylvania; if the plant closes, she expects other area employers will want to recruit Sikorsky’s skilled staff. "We really want Sikorsky employees to stay in their homes and neighborhoods, and won’t stop working on their behalf until every affected Sikorsky employee has a job in Chester County,” she added.