Orbital Sciences Coming to Huntington

By Beighley, Dan

MANUFACTURING: Rocket, satellite maker set to hire local, Boeing engineers Virginia’s Orbital Sciences Corp. is looking to tap into Orange County’s engineering workforce by opening a Huntington Beach office.

The Dulles, Va.-based maker of rockets and satellites wants to hire as many as 40 people in its first year here, and could eventually employ as many as 150.

“Huntington Beach is fertile ground for aerospace engineers,” said Barron Beneski, a spokesman for the company.

Orbital Sciences chose Huntington Beach despite its higher costs when it couldn’t recruit engineers to its Chandler, Ariz., location.

“Some people just don’t want to move, so we had to go to them,” Beneski said.

The office is expected to open this fall, but the company won’t announce the location until it’s signed a lease, he said.

The Huntington Beach location also will keep the company closer to many of its suppliers and customers in the area, which include Boeing Co., Northrop Grumman Corp., the California Institute of Technology’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena and the Air Force’s Missile Systems Center at its Los Angeles base.

Orbital did more than $1 billion in sales last year, about double what it was doing five years ago.

It had a recent publicly traded market value of about $1.5 billion.

It’s also doubled its workforce, growing at an average of 300 employees each year, bringing its total number of employees to 3,600.

Orbital will be competing with other local companies who have struggled to find engineers for some programs.

The company already has hired a handful of people for the office since announcing the move in August; it doesn’t anticipate having a hard time finding people.

“We’re not looking for quantity, but quality,” Beneski said.

Many of its new hires are likely to come from Boeing.

Boeing announced earlier in the year that it was laying off some of its workforce related to its satellite business in Seal Beach that failed to win some contracts.

Boeing, which accounts for 40% of all aerospace and defense employees in OC, or 9,700 workers, showed a 7.3% drop off in total workers in the past year.

Excluding Boeing’s reduction, the top 25 employers in the industry had a 2% increase in their workforce to 1.3 million jobs.

Like Orbital, Boeing had a similar problem in luring OC engineers outside of the area for work.

Last year, half of the 900 workers at Boeing’s United Launch Alliance, a joint venture with Lockheed Martin Corp, passed on moving with the company to Denver.

Most of the workers stayed for family reasons, according to the company.

Engineers at Orbital’s Huntington Beach office will be working primarily on the company’s Taurus II rocket program, which ferries cargo to the International Space Station.

Orbital doesn’t have plans to bring its satellite business here, but it is looking to tap rocket engineers in the area.

Some also will work on missile defense systems and help the company with customers and suppliers in Southern California.

The location will just have offices, not test facilities, Beneski said.

Huntington Beach won’t be Orbital’s first California location. It currently employs about 150 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Santa Barbara County and NASA’s Ames Research Center in Santa Clara County. More are likely to be added in the future, according to the company.

Orbital has been in business since 1982, and markets its products as being smaller and cheaper than competitors’.

Over the past few years the company has sold off parts of its business outside its core aerospace and defense industry, such as its transportation management division.

In June it said it would invest $45 million for a test and launch facility for its Taurus II program, adding about 125 jobs in Duties and its Wallops Island, Va., locations.

Copyright CBJ, L. P. Sep 1-Sep 7, 2008

(c) 2008 Orange County Business Journal. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.