"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.