On the day that Chester County Commissioners Michelle Kichline, Kathi Cozzone, and Terence Farrell received notification that Lockheed Martin was closing its Sikorsky operation in Coatesville, they tasked county executives to bring together all relevant parties to focus on immediate needs.
Those needs – finding jobs for Sikorsky employees, determining plans for the 22-acre Sikorsky site, and protecting the local economy – are now being addressed as Chester County workforce and economic development experts prepare rapid response plans to put into action as soon as Sikorsky representatives provide answers to key questions.
Within two days of the Sikorsky closure announcement, county representatives brought together everyone at the grassroots level who has contacts, influence, and strategies that can address the three focus areas of jobs, filling the vacated site, and supporting the local economy. Seated at the task force table from Day One were staff from the Chester County Commissioners’ Office, Chester County’s Department of Community Development, Workforce Development Board and Planning Commission, the Chester County Economic Development Council, and Chester County Chamber of Business and Industry.
Recognizing that state and federal officials would be taking actions to try to reverse or mitigate the Lockheed Martin decision to close the Sikorsky site, the county task force reached out to Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, Sens. Pat Toomey and Bob Casey, and staff at the State Department of Community and Economic Development and the Governor’s Action Team to combine in direction and strength.
“Working together is keeping us all focused on the task to help Sikorsky employees and their families, and to cover every other base that this closure at the end of the year will impact,” said Chester County Commissioners’ Chair Michelle Kichline.
Recognizing there were more questions than answers – including specific timings of the closure, transition support services for employees, and Sikorsky’s plans for the Heliplex site – the commissioners asked the task force to secure a meeting with a senior leadership team member from Sikorsky. Thanks to the collaborative and multi-faceted task force composition, Houlahan was able to secure a commitment for that meeting, currently scheduled for July 1. Task Force expectations are that the representative will be able to answer questions and be empowered to take action on follow-up requests from the task force.
“We are thankful to Rep. Houlahan for being so helpful in securing a commitment from Sikorsky to meet,” said Commissioner Kathi Cozzone. “The first step in solving any problem is having a complete understanding of the issue, and this meeting will help us to drive forward. We are also incredibly thankful for the outreach from a number of businesses in the local area who have offered support as we look to help those impacted transition toward new jobs in Chester County.”
The ripples of the pending Sikorsky closure will affect related businesses and organizations in the Coatesville area, especially Sadsbury Township, where the site is located, and the Coatesville Area School District. Knowing that the closure of Sikorsky will impact the tax bases of both, the commissioners have spoken with the school district’s superintendent, Dr. Cathy Taschner, and Chairman of Sadsbury Township’s Board of Supervisors Dave Reynolds to hear their concerns first-hand and ensure their needs were included in the task force’s actions.
“Sadsbury Township will be directly impacted through an earned income tax, as well as an Emergency Medical Services fee, the reduction of which, according to Dave Reynolds, could even impact the funding of further law enforcement support for the township,” said Commissioner Terence Farrell.
This Thursday, the commissioners will be attending a meeting facilitated by the county’s Department of Community Development to organize the county’s workforce response plan. Preliminary discussions with Sikorsky HR representatives indicate that the workforce services could begin within a month.
“Our county economy remains strong and diversified, with a low unemployment rate of 2.6 percent – the lowest in the state, and the lowest in recent history,” said Kichline. “We have many workforce resources in place, and the industry partners in our Manufacturing Alliance are in need of employees with skills such as those developed while employed at Sikorsky. We really want Sikorsky employees to stay in their homes and neighborhoods and won’t stop working on their behalf until every affected Sikorsky employee has a job in Chester County.”