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50 jobs leaving South Jeffco as Lockheed/Boeing continue rocket production consolidation

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By AJ Vicens

Fifty jobs are leaving South Jeffco as United Launch Alliance continues to move its Atlas rocket production to northern Alabama.

United Launch Alliance, based in Centennial, is a joint venture owned by Lockheed Martin and Boeing. The company engineers and produces rockets for the Atlas and Delta rocket programs, with the U.S. government as its largest client.

Dan Caughran, director of operations for United Launch Alliance, said the move has been a long time coming, and 38 of the 50 ULA production employees who work at the Waterton Canyon Lockheed facility are moving to northern Alabama by the end of the year.

"The rest may try to stay in Denver in other operations (for ULA) or seek other options. From a production standpoint, there will be some employees who choose not to follow the Atlas program to Alabama," Caughran said.

About 125 people work on production for the Atlas program at Lockheed's Waterton Canyon facility, with 50 of those being ULA employees. The rest will continue to work in South Jeffco. About 1,000 people work for ULA and Lockheed on the Atlas project.

The consolidation comes as ULA has experienced layoffs nationwide. In November 2008, the company said it would lay off 350 people across the U.S. because of the downturn in the economy and lower demand from the U.S. government. After the layoffs, the company would have just under 4,000 employees nationwide, with about 1,800 in the Denver area.

Consolidation has been a theme for the company since its inception in December 2006. The company combined Delta rocket production and engineering jobs from Huntington Beach, Calif., and moved them to Denver, South Jeffco and a facility in Harlingen, Texas. Those additional jobs helped Colorado achieve the No. 2 national ranking for aerospace jobs, according to ULA spokesman Chris Chavez. But those jobs were here only temporarily, as the company constructed a new production facility in Decatur, Ala.

"Alabama is a favorable location," Caughran said, noting its access to the Tennessee River and the Gulf of Mexico. The rockets are launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Chavez said the consolidation efforts are all part of the broader effort behind the creation of ULA to save money.

"ULA was created to save government money in launch services," Chavez said. "The plan was all along to consolidate production facilities."

Contact AJ Vicens at aj@evergreenco.com, and check www.columbinecourier.com for updates and breaking news.