Defense manufacturer ITT Exelis to shut down Willow Lane, 170 jobs lost

Thousand Oaks defense manufacturer ITT Exelis will shut its Willow Lane plant and lay off 170 employees, the company said Friday.

The maker of devices that jam cellphone signals used to set off explosive devices in Iraq and Afghanistan will close its 150,000-square-foot facility because the U.S. military — its primary customer — has bought all of the devices it needs now that the wars are winding down for the U.S., said Tim White, communications manager for the electronics division.

"This is more of an industry situation than any one particular company," White said. "We surged tremendously to meet the need of the military and it's now on a downslope."

Out of the 215 employees at the plant, 45 will be transferred to a similar facility in Van Nuys, White said. He couldn't say which jobs will be relocated because that hasn't been decided yet, he said, but those losing their jobs will be offered severance packages. Employees were notified in a company meeting on Nov. 18, he said.

Employees haven't received termination letters under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification law because the layoffs won't begin until April and will be done in stages, White said. The law requires companies to send termination notices to employees, the city and the state in many cases.

The plant will close by the end of 2012, White said.

ITT bought the Thousand Oaks facility around 2007 when it was part of EDO Corp., a national company that made a range of products including radios and antennas, for $1.7 billion, according to White. The company had the government contract, then worth up to $700 million, to make the jammer for improvised explosive devices (IEDs) but it was producing only a small number, he said. After the purchase, the military significantly ramped up its orders through a larger contract that grew in worth to $1.7 billion, White said. Production surged to 1,250 a month, White said, because there was such a need to mitigate IED explosions.

"IED devices were a huge problem," White said. "These people really stepped up and provided a solution that changed the nature of the battle in many ways for our military."

ITT Exelis cannot easily expand its customer base for the cellphone jamming-devices, White said. The company is limited in those it can sell the devices to because the technology could be reverse-engineered and become a military risk, he said.

The plant's closure comes as a result of consolidation by ITT Exelis of its electronic systems division, which is based in Clifton, N.J.

Most of the positions in Thousand Oaks that will be lost are manufacturing jobs, but the layoffs will include others, White said. The relocated jobs will move to Van Nuys, which makes air traffic control systems for governments here and abroad for use in both military and civilian environments. That facility has 385 employees, the number the Thousand Oaks site had at its peak, according to White.

The layoffs are not exclusive to Thousand Oaks. About 300 positions companywide will be eliminated, White said, including at the company's Fort Wayne, Ind., plant. That facility had a large ramp-up of the radios it produced that then dropped off, similar to what happened at Thousand Oaks.

The ITT Exelis layoffs are just the last set in a series of layoffs in Thousand Oaks. Bank of America announced layoffs of 140 people earlier in the fall, the biotechnology firm Amgen laid off 226 people and the city of Thousand Oaks itself laid off 85, according to city Public Information Officer Andrew Powers.

"When any kind of business in town closes, it's disappointing for us as a city," Powers said. Powers said the development departments within the city are already aware that the property will soon become available. ITT Exelis leased the building, which according to Powers has good frontage on Highway 101 and should be a "showcase property."

The local chamber of commerce has already told the city the plant closing won't likely impact local businesses nearby, Powers added.

"All of these reductions we're seeing are indicative of challenges in the economy as a whole right now," Powers said.

Exelis Inc., based in McLean, Va., spun off from ITT Corp. in White Plains, N.Y. on Oct. 31 and began trading as a public company on Nov. 1, The company has the temporary right to use the ITT name. Company stock price at Friday's closing was $9.14, down $0.01.

Source: VC Star