Goodrich expanding workforce

VERGENNES — The current workforce at Goodrich Corp.’s Vergennes plant stands at 780, about 20 fewer than a year ago. But if the company’s local hiring plans work out, more workers will soon punch in and out on Panton Road than did in mid-2009, and the workforce could return to where it stood before layoffs began early last year.
Sol Mirelez, marketing communications manager of Goodrich’s Sensors and Integrated Systems division — which includes the Vergennes plant — said the company is now advertising for more help there.
“We’ve got approximately 30 job openings for technicians and other professional positions,” Mirelez said.
In early 2009, Goodrich laid off 11 workers to reach the 800 level, and attrition dropped that number even lower since. The 30 new jobs would restore the plant to roughly pre-layoff numbers.
Mirelez said the company is seeing an uptick in demand for the specialties of its Vergennes plant.
One such product — a helicopter diagnostic system — recently earned Goodrich a $13.6 million military contract. That system already has earned the company more than $100 million in defense contracts, according to a press release from Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).
The product — Health and Usage Monitoring Systems, or HUMS — gives mechanics feedback on a helicopter’s engine and structural performance and its rotor function and wear, allowing a helicopter to be serviced before major failures. 
According to Leahy’s release, before the use of HUMS units helicopters were taken out of service for routine preventative maintenance, thus grounding some helicopters that did not need servicing. Meanwhile, potentially dangerous mechanical defects went undetected in others. HUMS units now are onboard many military and commercial helicopters, including the Blackhawk, Chinook, Huey, Cobra and Lakota. 
Mirelez said HUMS has been a solid performer for Goodrich.
“The (armed) services continue to receive strong benefits from using this particular system in helicopters,” he said.
But Mirelez said other product lines have also figured into growth on Panton Road.
“(That contract) is obviously good news, but at the same time it’s only part of the business we’re doing in Vermont,” he said. “We’re increasing (the workforce) to match the ever-so-slight increase in business.”
Overall, Mirelez said Goodrich would say little about its overall prospects in advance of its first-quarter report, which is due later this month.
“It’s the same as last year, we’re being cautiously optimistic about the recovery,” he said of the larger picture.
Goodrich’s final report of 2009 reported gross annual sales of $6.7 billion, down from $7.1 billion in 2008 and short of the projection of $6.9 billion contained in its first-quarter report of last year.
Still, that fourth-quarter 2009 report also forecast an increase to $7.1 billion in sales for 2010.
Goodrich sells new and after-market products to both the commercial and defense sectors. As might be expected during the recent economic downturn and during two wars, Goodrich’s defense business has outperformed its commercial efforts. But even the commercial sectors showed some strong points.
In the company’s fourth-quarter report, president and CEO Marshall Larsen, said last year, “we experienced strong growth in sales of large commercial airplane original equipment and defense and space products and services. This growth was more than offset by continued weakness in demand for regional, business and general aviation original equipment and commercial aftermarket products and services.”
Larsen also said, “we continue to believe that 2010 will be a year of modest recovery, which should allow us to grow our commercial aftermarket sales,” and forecast defense sales to increase by 15 percent, thanks in part to a recent acquisition. According to the report, defense sales increased by 10 percent in 2010.
It’s no accident, Mirelez said, that Goodrich has maintained a solid foundation even in uncertain times.
“Goodrich has a business that is very well-balanced and diverse,” he said. “Between the commercial and military sectors, between the original equipment and aftermarket, (we have) from a diverse standpoint, lots of different products and systems on lots of different aircraft. That’s helped us weather the economic conditions we’ve all experienced the past couple of years.”
Reporter Andy Kirkaldy is at [email protected].

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