"The Industry" Leaves Southern California


Northrop Grumman, the last major aerospace/defense company in Southern California, is packing up and moving to the greater Washington, D.C. area. While there are plenty of rich subtexts to this news, as a child of Southern California aerospace I prefer this cultural appreciation by a troika of academics over at LA Observed:

When most people today think of "the industry" in this area, they no doubt think of Hollywood. But while the entertainment economy now dominates, it only passed aerospace as the main employer in California in the 1990s, after the Cold War. Meanwhile, interest in Silicon Valley as a high-tech region has ignored the larger high-tech example here in Southern California.

One cannot understand the history of Southern California without aerospace. […]

The sign's still there, anyway

Aerospace technologies affected local activities from the movie business to hot-rod cars and surfing. Aerospace shifted the demographic balance between white-collar engineering jobs and blue-collar manufacturing, and hence L.A.'s socioeconomic makeup. It reflected the local labor pool through the presence of Latinos and Asians and through what Ernie Pyle called the "Aviation Okies" who gave Los Angeles a Dust-Bowl inflection. The limited presence of women historically in the engineering profession affected their opportunities in local industry. Similarly, the relative scarcity of Catholics in science and engineering no doubt shaped the region's religious landscape. Is it just coincidence that the Air Force based its first missile office in an abandoned Catholic parish in Inglewood?

Classification and secrecy meanwhile meant aerospace engineers could not discuss their work with family or friends, and the security clearance process, which encouraged social and political conformity, shaped Southern California culture and politics.

Whole thing here. I'm heartened to see that the authors are helping put together an Aerospace History Project through the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West; I once spent a good three-martini lunch with a guy who for decades was one of three photographers employed full-time by one of the local giants, and he kept worrying where all this wonderful photography of historical interest was going to end up.

I wrote about SoCal aerospace job losses in the July issue.

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  1. Matt, can you outline a few of the benefits of moving from LA to DC for the industry? I can guess and probably be right, but aren’t there some drawbacks as well? Your take?

    1. I don’t know enough (or anything, really) about it. I’m sure it makes some sense to put HQ near your biggest customer, and I’m sure the Cluster has been moving from SoCal to Virginia for decades, but really I don’t know.

    2. I’ve lived and worked in both places and run a business in LA. I’m just shootin’ from the hip here, but given California’s budget woes, going forward?

      California isn’t a very business friendly place to begin with, and the way the powers that be think there, it’s likely that large employers will bear the brunt of righting the ship of state.

      Also, California is hell on earth for large emitters of pollution, and that’s situation’s likely to get worse in the near future.

      I’m sure there are other contributing factors, but the prospect of being scapegoated for everything from the state’s budget woes to global warming would be a good enough reason for me to bug out.

      1. The article says though, that most of the 21K manufacturing jobs are staying, it’s only the HQ that’s moving.

        So likely, it’s for exactly the same reasons why ExxonMobil moved to Northern Virginia – and it’s not that they found oil under Gallows Road.

        1. Well, Mobil was already there, but your point stands.

  2. My concern is that this will further politicize the development of new systems. When they were in California, they were actually closer to military personnel than politicians. However, being closer to Washington, new systems will be shaped by political wants rather than military needs.

    1. Hmmm. Do you think it’ll actually be worse now than it already was? All the big primes have had their business development living near the beltway for a long time now.

  3. “The Industry” Leaves Southern California

    Oh, Se?or, you make me laugh!

  4. You know California is irretrievably fucked when it makes sense to relocate to Washington DC.

    1. That was kind of my reason for asking the question. I know it’s bad there, but so bad they’d move to DC? I have lost hope.

    2. Uh huh. So where do they move five years from now, when they figure out the Fed is as irretrievably fucked as California?

  5. Oh wow, thats some pretty amazing news dude. Seriously.


  6. This is my response to the post. Others have their own responses to this post, but this one is mine.

  7. I have a sentimental fondness for Northrop; in addition a lot of cool airplanes, including the astonishing original Flying Wing, I made some pretty good money on Northrop stock, several years ago.

  8. I started an “Los Angeles – Aerospace Capital of the World” on the Los Angeles City-Data forum. Lots of stories, history, books about the aerospace history in Los Angeles.

  9. SpaceX, maker of rockets and spaceships, set up shop in Hawthorne, California recently. In a factory formerly used to make 747s.

  10. The primary benefit of moving the corporate office to DC is to be closer to your #1 customer. In this case, the US Military is their #1 customer.

  11. From the LAT article:

    But its [LA’s] political structure is a little too dominated by labor, with too little influence from employers to serve as a counterbalance.

    I think I just heard Patterico’s head explode.

  12. So where do they move five years from now, when they figure out the Fed is as irretrievably fucked as California?

    1. China.

      fucking squirrels

  13. “The Industry” Leaves Southern California

    I thought you were talking about porn, when I first read that.

    1. Me too. I was getting a little worried. Long live the San Fernando Valley and its #1 export, the scourage of Islamic radicals everywhere!

    2. No kidding, I couldn’t imagine what else “The Industry” could refer to.

  14. Great news for NoVa upscale housing market.

  15. My second thought was “First, the Rams, and now *this*?”

  16. Wow, the porn industry is throwing in the towel and moving to China. Now I know we’re really fucked.

    1. I just hope the porn industry doesn’t throw said towel anywhere near my direction… I can’t imagine how much genetic material exists on that towel.

      1. Really, we wash them after every scene.

  17. I worked there as a consultant in late 2008. I truly dysfunctional company that made Dilbert look normal. When a software project was so far behind schedule that the client was going to pull the plug, the company added extra management to help speed things up. Engineers had five hours of meetings a day, the sole purpose of which seemed to be to publicly berate the engineers for only getting three hours of work done a day.

    1. Don’t you know that more meetings and more managers can solve any problem in the whole wide world? It’s an aerospace industry-wide known fact.

      And just in case you’re wondering, aerospace is nothing like GM.

      1. Subsititute more committee meetings and more bureaucrats for more meetings and more managers and you pretty much have the gov’t version of the same flawed thinking.

  18. There’s still plenty of NG engineering in the South Bay, just suits moving to DC. And it must be the security clearance process that leads to social and political conformity, because goodness knows there’s none of that in Silver Lake, WeHo or Santa Monica!

  19. If “The Industry” wanted to have such a long and prosperous future next to its biggest customer, then they should have relocated near America’s permanent Capitol in Colorado, like Amgen is doing.

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