Senator, General Atomics wary of cuts

By Dennis Seid

By Dennis Seid
Daily Journal
SHANNON – A seventh expansion at General Atomics will nearly double the defense contractor’s facility, and another 40 jobs could be added in three years.
That’s if massive defense cuts don’t impact the work going on there.
Sequestration – mandatory cuts to federal programs – threatens to slice billions of defense dollars, and with it, thousands of jobs. How General Atomics and other defense industry companies are affected remains to be seen.
Because a U.S. Senate “super committee” was unable to come up with a deficit plan, some $1.2 billion in cuts over 10 years will go into effect in January. About $500 billion will come from the defense budget alone.
U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., visited the GA facility on Monday, and said the work of the company and other defense contractors in the state is critical.
“There could be a loss of 11,000 jobs in Mississippi alone, and 1 million jobs nationwide,” he said.
Wicker said if he could, he would take his Senate colleagues to tour the state’s defense contractors, which stretch from one end of the state to the other.
“They’re critical for national security and for job creation,” he said.
Wicker was given a quick tour by Pete Rinaldi, the plant manager of General Atomics, and Scott Forney, the company’s senior vice president and electromagnetic division chief.
They showed him components being assembled for GA’s electromagnetic aircraft launch system, or EMALS, as well as an arresting gear system to be installed in the U.S. Navy’s next generation of aircraft carriers. They also showed some of the underwater systems being developed by the company, as well as work on the Predator drone and on a rail gun.
General Atomics’ facility in the Tupelo Lee Industrial Park South is the company’s chief manufacturing operation, Forney said.
“In 2004 when we first chose this site, it was to build the launch motors for EMALs. Now it’s transformed into power electronics, underwater and submarine work, hybrid power systems … we’ve really diversified,” he said.
Forney said the looming defense cuts could be problematic. Wicker’s visit was a way to thank him for his support through the years, he said.
“No doubt all of us defense contractors are affected when there are cuts across the board,” said Forney, who added that he hopes General Atomics’ programs will continue to be funded.
Wicker was more direct about the issue. “Sequestration will impact General Atomics,” he said.
The company employs 67 at its Shannon facility, which, on average, has expanded nearly every year since it opened.
GA officials said the company’s economic impact on the regional economy is about $30 million regionally.
dennis.seid@journalinc.com