The prospect of layoffs at a Chester County helicopter manufacturer means more than a lost job for Brian Newhouse.
"I love it," he said of his work. "It's a passion."
An Alabama native with a salt-and-pepper beard, Newhouse served in the military and moved around the South before starting at Sikorsky Global Helicopter in Coatesville eight years ago.
"I've been here long enough to love the area, to make new friends and get to know people I consider family, and I would hate to leave," the 51-year-old said.
Sikorsky, the 20th-largest employer in Chester County, according to state statistics, announced this month it would lay off 160 employees and 560 contractors over 12 months. The facility has 1,060 full-time staff, including Newhouse.
"Certainly there would be an impact there, not just to Coatesville but to the entire community," said Mike Grigalonis, the Chester County Economic Development Council's chief operating officer.
The layoffs come amid efforts to revitalize Coatesville, a city of 13,000 with a median household income of $35,115, more than $50,000 less than the county's median.
The lower price of oil worldwide is driving the cuts, company spokesman Paul Jackson said. Coatesville is the main production site for the company's civilian helicopters, and the oil and gas industries are the primary customers. They buy big transport helicopters such as the $25 million S-92s, similar to the military's Black Hawks, to supply offshore drilling sites.
"There's less of a market for exploration as the price of oil falls," said Richard Aboulafia, a vice president with the aerospace-industry analyst the Teal Group.
More than most competitors, Sikorsky commercial business caters to oil and gas customers, making it more vulnerable to changes in that market, he said. Internationally, the company is cutting 1,400 of its 15,264-person workforce.
The parent of Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., United Technologies, may try to spin off or sell the helicopter business. But that possibility is unrelated to the decision to lay off, Jackson said. Sikorsky reported $7.5 billion in sales last year and a $219 million profit. The company has also seen weak foreign military sales recently, Jackson said.
Who will lose their jobs and when remain unknown.The company said there are criteria it is using but did not provide details.
Outside Sikorsky's sprawling complex of hangars and office buildings off Route 30, men with safety goggles perched atop their heads spent an early-evening break smoking or going to get food.
They knew almost nothing about who would lose their jobs, they said. None of the men would give their names, but many were contractors who believed their specialized expertise would allow them to quickly find work. They mentioned some coworkers have already quit to take other jobs.
Uncertainty in the field is nothing new, Aboulafia said.
"All too typical of our industry, I'm afraid," he said.
Sikorsky spokeswoman Allison Guerra said the number of contracted workers fluctuated even week to week depending on projects underway.
At a nearby restaurant and watering hole, Harry's Hot Dogs, Newhouse said he earned a relatively high salary, something he feared might hurt him.
"If it's strictly from a money, cost-savings position, I would be concerned," he said.
Local and regional officials were concerned about whether the jobs would return if the price of oil increased and what the layoff announcement means for Sikorsky's commitment to the region.
"They said to me their commitment to Coatesville and to the region is real, and they hope to retool and add more workers once the orders start to come in again," said State Sen. Andy Dinniman (D., Chester).
Sikorsky came to Coatesville when it acquired Keystone Ranger Holdings in 2005 and has been a bright spot for the region's economic development.
In 2014, the company received a $1.24 billion contract to build the president's helicopters, called Marine One, and some of that work is done at the Coatesville site. Also last year, Sikorsky received a $2.5 million state grant to pay for half the costs of a tunnel under Washington Lane that would provide direct access to the Coatesville airport. That project is still moving forward, Dinniman said.
Coatesville has seen improvements recently. A decrepit Amtrak stop is slated to be revitalized, and a Courtyard Marriott opened in 2012. But a plan to redevelop the Flats, 22 acres near the Route 30 bypass, stumbled last year when no development proposals were submitted.
At Harry's Hot Dogs, Newhouse expressed concern about paying the mortgage on his home near the airport but said he believed his years of training and experience as a lead avionics technician would allow him to keep working at Sikorsky. In the meantime, though, he wasn't planning on making any changes.
"I bring the same passion to work every day," he said.