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Boeing to shut down Long Beach assembly plant and eliminate thousands of jobs

A C-17 Globemaster III airlifter built for the United Arab Emirates Air Force and Air Defence is prepared for takeoff from Long Beach Airport on May 10, 2011.
A C-17 Globemaster III airlifter built for the United Arab Emirates Air Force and Air Defence is prepared for takeoff from Long Beach Airport on May 10, 2011.
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

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Boeing, the company that lays claim to being the world's largest aerospace manufacturer, has decided to stop production of military cargo planes at its Long Beach facility by 2015, shutting down the last major airplane assembly plant in California.

The facility builds C-17 Globemaster III military cargo planes that carry food, equipment and supplies. The closure will impact nearly 3,000 Boeing employees, including about 2,000 people in Southern California. Boeing said it is closing the facility because there weren’t enough orders for the planes.

Kenneth Villarreal, a Boeing employee who handles quality assurance of C-17s, said he’s concerned about what he’ll do next.

“I’ve been with that company all my life,” Villarreal said. “You know, it wasn’t like I just worked for them five or ten years. I’ve been there 31 years. It’s a sad situation to lose that job.”

Villarreal said he remembers seeing the first C-17 fly out of the Long Beach airport. Now, he’ll help Boeing build the last one.

Next year, Boeing will start reducing its workforce. Dennis Muilenburg, CEO and president of Boeing Defense, Space and Security called the assembly facility’s upcoming closure a “very difficult but necessary decision.”

“Our customers around the world face very tough budget environments,” Muilenburg said. “While the desire for the C-17’s capabilities is high, budgets cannot support additional purchases in the timing required to keep the production line open.”

Muilenberg also said the automatic spending cuts known as sequestration, have also made it challenging for Boeing’s customers and the aerospace industry.

The upcoming closure of the Long Beach assembly facility marks the end of an era in Southern California, once home to the nation’s largest aerospace companies. The aerospace industry has declined over the years, due to the end of the Cold War, company consolidation and defense budget cuts, said Kimberly Ritter-Martinez, an economist with the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp.

In 1990, there were about 189,000 people working in the aerospace industry in L.A. County, according to the LAEDC. That number has dropped by 70 percent, to roughly 57,000 employees in the first half of 2012. Ritter-Martinez said Southern California’s aerospace industry has evolved with less manufacturing of airplanes and more high-tech work in areas like satellites and drones.

Boeing said it will help employees find jobs both inside and outside the company. But Villarreal, 56, said he’s not sure where he will work next. Maybe he’ll move out of state to Seattle, he said.

“To go look for a job right now, it’s going to be tough in the market, because when you’re an older person, the big companies they look at all of that. Age is a big factor today on hiring,” Villarreal said.

There are  just 22 C-17 cargo planes left to build and deliver, according to Boeing.