Despite Lockheed Martin Corp.'s announcement last week that it would put a major Prince William County-based division on the block, some business and economic development leaders remain cautiously optimistic about the plant's future.
Years of ownership changes have proved Lockheed's Manassas operations remarkably resilient.
"There's a quiet confidence that whatever happens to this division that is put up for sale, someone will buy it and make money with it," said Roger Snyder, director of community development for Manassas. "There's not a fear that this is the beginning of the end."
The Manassas campus of Lockheed Martin has long been considered among the county's biggest and best employers. The portion of the space and electronics line that might be up for sale--a division that makes radiation-hardened software for use in space--employs about 300 people. The division might be sold as the company attempts to streamline operations, eliminating parts of its noncore operations.
"These are healthy, viable businesses that no longer fit with our business strategies, so we're evaluating them for potential sale. That would include buyers who want them," said James Fetig, Lockheed Martin spokesman
The division is a part of the larger unit that employs 900 people.
The other portion of the Manassas Lockheed Martin, which has about 800 workers involved in undersea warfare technology for the Navy, is not believed to be up for divestiture.
The business was originally a branch of International Business Machines Corp., which then sold it to Loral Corp., which in turn sold it to Lockheed. Area business leaders and employees alike are holding out hope that the sale will mean just a new owner.
"There's a recognition that despite the fact that the business has gone from IBM to Loral to Lockheed Martin, many of the leaders have stayed the same and the business has been relatively stable," Snyder said. "For the past five years [here], employment has hovered around 2,000."
In fact, he said, the sale of the division could even mean more jobs, in a best-case scenario. "There's room for growth if someone else buys it."
Martin J. Briley, executive director of the Prince William County Economic Development Department, said he does not foresee any effect at all on the county.
"If they find a suitable buyer, they will divest it," he said. "In fact, what we may see is an infusion" of more and better business.
County officials can only watch and wonder what's next.
"When these big companies decide that they are going to [sell] a division, there's little, if anything, a county can do," said Joseph Contrucci, vice president of the Prince William-66 Partnership, a nonprofit economic development organization promoting growth on the western side of the county.
"The good thing is, there's no [negative] reflection on Prince William County. It's just unfortunate if we lose employment."
"We don't know what any buyer may choose to do with that business. What we do know is that we are selling it, not closing it," Fetig said. "So logic will tell us that there will be minimal disruption."
No matter what happens with Lockheed, though, there will be some concerns, Contrucci said.
"No one likes the thought of losing a company like that for whatever reason," he said.
"One hates to have a huge employee like that sell a division. There's a lot of uncertainty with a sale like that."
Snyder has noticed that uncertainty.
"There's some anxiety," he said. "People are polling each other to see who is going to buy this division. No one really knows. There's been no news release since the one a week ago," when the company announced its streamlining.
Local officials also see the potential sale as an opportunity to attract companies and possible buyers to the area.
Area officials, Snyder said, are "buoyed by the confidence of what is happening with Northern Virginia technology," particularly in Prince William and Manassas.
"We're not the country cousins," he said. "We offer a lot on the edge of Northern Virginia that can't happen when you're embedded in the Beltway."
CAPTION: Lockheed Martin might sell a Manassas division that makes radiation-hardened software for use in space, such as NASA's Cassini mission to Saturn.