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Sikorsky will lay off hundreds of workers in CT after US Army scraps new helicopter program

FILE, 2009: Workers walk outside of Black Hawk helicopter maker Sikorsky Aircraft, in Stratford, Conn.
Douglas Healey
FILE, 2009: Hearst Connecticut Media reports as many as 400 workers in Connecticut will be affected by layoffs, the vast majority of them in Stratford (above).

One of Connecticut's major manufacturers is laying off hundreds of employees.

Stratford-based Sikorsky says it's making the cuts after the U.S. Army canceled plans for a new helicopter called the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft.

Sikorsky's parent company, Lockheed Martin, would not give an exact number of how many jobs will be eliminated from its business segment, but it did say "it amounts to less than 1% of the Lockheed Martin workforce."

As many as 400 workers in Connecticut will be affected, the vast majority of them in Stratford. Many of the workers are part of the company's engineering and digital technology staff.

Gov. Ned Lamont's spokesperson, Julia Bergman, said the state is working with Sikorsky and other partners to proactively connect impacted workers with new job opportunities in Connecticut.

"It has been well documented that there is high demand for engineering and tech talent in our state right now, so it is our expectation these workers will be quickly and easily absorbed into our manufacturing ecosystem," Bergman said.

Bergman said Sikorsky remains committed to Connecticut and will continue to be an important contributor to the state’s manufacturing and defense sector. Senior Army officials have expressed "continued and increased support" for the Black Hawk program, Bergman said.

But while the state is hopeful laid off engineers can remain in Connecticut, others say some might move.

Mike Hirschberg is the director of strategy for the Vertical Flight Society, a nonprofit organization advocating for the helicopter industry.

Hirschberg said the layoffs hurt Sikorsky since it takes time and effort to cultivate talented aerospace engineering teams. There are other manufacturers located around the country, and while some may end up staying in Connecticut, their niche skills are as Bergman said, highly in demand.

Some may be able to transfer within Lockheed Martin, others may get jobs in other fields and stay in Connecticut, and others may move.

"There are a limited number of aerospace developers in the world, in the country," Hirschberg said. "So it's not easy to stay in the field and stay in the same place."

Yet while many elected officials expressed dismay over the layoffs, others, such as David Cadden, a professor emeritus at Quinnipiac University say the subsidiary can still boast several military contracts and the possibility of design upgrades to existing aircraft.

Caddeb says the impact to the state could reflect the military's focus on drones.

"I think we'll probably see more of an impact four or five years down the road, depending upon the direction that the army is going and the army decides to look for UAVs," Cadden said. "I think Sikorsky may be in a position to be able to develop product that would fulfill that gap."

U.S. Rep Rosa DeLauro, whose district includes Stratford, said Sikorsky and its workers are "the lifeblood of the community" and she will do all she can to "ensure the company has the resources to remain competitive."

Sikorsky employs roughly 8,000 people in Connecticut.

It laid off 179 workers in the fall, saying it needed to remain cost-competitive in the future.

This is a developing story, which will be updated.

Jennifer Ahrens is a producer for Morning Edition. She spent 20+ years producing TV shows for CNN and ESPN. She joined Connecticut Public Media because it lets her report on her two passions, nature and animals.