BELLINGHAM - One of Bellingham's largest manufacturing companies is going through what is expected to be a temporary slowdown, but it has resulted in worker layoffs.
Zodiac Aerospace announced the layoffs to employees on Thursday, Jan. 9, and Friday, Jan. 10. While not disclosing an exact number of workers affected, General Manager Derek Neumann said it was more than 50 but less than 100 people.
Zodiac, which manufactures aircraft interiors, now employs slightly more than 500 people in Bellingham.
"It is not a good day for the company," Neumann said. "Our message to our employees is that while we are currently going through some lean times, we view this as a short-term hiccup and that our long-term outlook is strong."
A hole in the production cycle led to the staff reduction. The company works with airlines throughout the year on aircraft interior upgrades, particularly overhead storage bins and closets. Neumann said they spotted the current slowdown in production about six months ago and tried to fill it with a short-term project, but were unsuccessful.
Work is expected to increase at the Bellingham facility in June, when a big project gets started that should keep workers busy through August 2015, Neumann said.
"It's just getting between here to there that was difficult to bridge," he said, noting that the laid-off employees are eligible to be rehired if openings are created.
Known for years as Heath Tecna, the Bellingham facility was purchased by Zodiac in September 2011. Because of the nature of the business, the facility was known for having layoffs followed by a flurry of hiring. As part of Zodiac, the Bellingham facility used temporary workers during some ramp-ups to insulate the direct workforce, but that couldn't cover all staff in this situation, Neumann said.
With the layoffs have come rumors that Zodiac might close the Bellingham location since it has so many other facilities around the world. Neumann addressed that, saying Zodiac's long-term strategy is to stay in Bellingham.
"(Zodiac) bought us with the intention of growing this facility, not closing it," he said.
Work at the Bellingham facility has been virtually identical to when it operated under the Heath Tecna name, with much of the customer base being airlines from Southeast Asia. Customers over the years have included Qantas Airlines and Mitsubishi Regional Jet. The one thing that's changed since becoming part of Zodiac is that the Bellingham facility is seeing more projects with Delta Airlines.
Zodiac Aerospace is headquartered in France and employs about 20,000 people worldwide, supplying airplane, helicopter and space equipment.