A major military contractor with roots in the region stretching back a generation will end operations at the end of the year for a lack of demand for the lightweight helmets and body armor it pioneered.
BAE Systems Inc. announced Wednesday it would idle its facility in the Valley View Business Park in Jessup and lay off its remaining 111 employees.
The company had been decreasing its workforce for several years following the reduction of United States military combat troops deployed overseas.
Manufacturing is expected to cease at the facility in September, said company spokesperson Megan Mitchell, and a handful of employees will remain to help close the facility by Dec. 18.
Employees will be entitled to a severance package based on longevity, she said.
Eugene Varzaly, chairman of Jessup Borough’s planning commission, said news of the plant’s closing came as a surprise and a disappointment to him.
The planning commission has oversight of the borough’s comprehensive plan for growth and also makes recommendations to borough council on new development.
“Any vacancy up there is a concern to all of us,” he said. “I’m disappointed that they’re going to be moving out, but we’ll work with whatever industry is interested in coming into the plant.”
Trinkets to Tactical Gear
The Jessup facility traces its roots to a company founded in Dunmore, Specialty Defense Systems, which began by making plastic novelties for athletic teams in 1969 in a former glove factory. The company took advantage of evolving plastics technology to pioneer the development of lightweight helmets and became a full-fledged defense contractor in the late 1970s. Working with the military, the company developed Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment – MOLLE – a versatile backpack that allowed soldiers to efficiently carry a range of gear and supplies. MOLLE became a fixture in deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq. Specialty was sold to Armor Holdings Inc. for $92 million in 2004. The company and its 130 employees moved to Jessup where it enjoyed Keystone Opportunity Zone benefits, which included real estate tax abatement and the waiving of some state taxes through 2013. Armor was acquired by British defense and aerospace giant BAE in 2007.
In 2008 the company employed about 600, having expanded into another site, adding 40,000 square feet of additional space for manufacturing and research and development, where it refined lightweight gear for soldiers including vests, backpacks and hydration systems. By March 2012, employment was at 225.