Karen Dybis

The Detroit News

Defense-industry companies across Metro Detroit are worrying about losing  thousands of jobs unless Congress and President Barack Obama reach a deal before  year’s end to prevent defense cuts.

If Congress does not act, the Defense Department faces an automatic $50  billion to $63 billion cut in January that would cause an estimated loss of  nearly 1.37 million defense jobs nationwide, including 14,641 jobs in Michigan,  according to the Center for Security Policy, a Washington, D.C.-based research  group that promotes “peace through strength.”

The report was based in part on research by the Center for Regional Analysis  at George Mason University.

The defense spending reductions are part of the 2011 budget deal to address  the country’s debt ceiling crisis. It triggers across-the-board or  “sequestration” defense and nondefense budget cuts unless a new agreement is  reached. About $500 billion in defense cuts were involved in the deal as well as  another $500 billion in reductions over the next decade.

Both Obama and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney said during Monday’s  presidential debate that they don’t want to see the next round of defense cuts.  Romney and congressional Republicans say they want to avoid $1 trillion in  cumulative defense cuts. Obama and Democrats said they want Republicans to agree  to tax increases on the wealthy to replace the defense spending reductions.

Comerica Bank chief economist Robert Dye said he thinks Congress and Obama  will reach a compromise before the end of the year that would slice in half the  defense spending reductions. It still would result in the elimination of 3,000  to 7,000 defense-related jobs in Michigan, or 1 percent to 2 percent of  manufacturing jobs statewide, Dye said.

Laid-off workers would no longer spend their paychecks at local grocery  stores, restaurants and auto dealerships, he said, and the impact would  reverberate throughout the economy.

“Because these cuts represent very high-wage industries, there is likely to  be a multiplier of effects throughout the economy,” Dye said. “For every  $100,000 job lost, another $100,000 job or combination of jobs that add up to  that would be lost as well.”

The Center for Security Policy report puts the reduction in Michigan’s  economic output from the full defense cuts at $1.07 billion.

Combine the potential employment losses with job reductions from the peak of  the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and it is a dangerous situation, said Mark  Signorelli, vice president and general manager of vehicle systems for BAE  Systems Inc., one of the six largest suppliers to the Defense Department.

In Metro Detroit, BAE went from a high of about 600 employees to about 330  now, Signorelli said. The BAE facility in Sterling Heights, which opened in  March, has an office complex and prototype facility for the engineering,  developmentand program management of military ground vehicles.

The company projects that the possible 2013 defense cuts would eliminate 10  to 30 percent of BAE’s sales, Signorelli added.

Although Sterling Heights could see a significant impact, Signorelli said  other BAE facilities across the nation would be hit far worse. Michigan ranks  No. 28 in projected job losses from the automatic defense cuts, while Virginia  ranks first with 145,198 job losses and California second with 141,130  employment losses, according to the Center for Security Policy report.

“The biggest challenge we have is uncertainty,” Signorelli said. “But the  impacts are real, they are significant and they are going to impact the entire  industry.”

The impact will flow down to the company’s vendors, subcontractors and  suppliers, he said. Often, when companies work with the defense industry, they  have difficulty diversifying — getting business in other industries.

So suppliers and subcontractors may not survive the defense spending cuts,  Signorelli said. Once they’re gone, he said, it is costly and difficult to find  new ones to do the work.

“With the impact of sequestration, we believe that while we can certainly  make the numbers work, we’re probably going to go beyond what is a normal flex  of the industry. … You can flex a certain amount, but then you start to break,”  Signorelli said.

Defense cuts would hit Macomb County the hardest because it has the highest  number of defense contractors in Michigan. The center’s report estimates Macomb  County would experience an annual defense contractor revenue reduction of $315.5  million.

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel estimates there are 500-600  defense-related companies in the county, along with sizable groupings in Oakland  and Wayne counties.

That is one of the reasons Macomb County’s executive office is working to  diversify, marketing the county’s high-technology, advanced manufacturing and  information technology industries as well as defense. Hackel said he prefers the  area be known as the Arsenal of Innovation rather than the Arsenal of  Democracy.

“We don’t want to rely solely on our defense piece,” Hackel said. “Even if  there are cuts in defense spending, there are still things going on in that  cluster that will keep the economy churning.”

Hackel said he is working with local and federal representatives to ensure  they understand how governmental spending affects the county.

“Maybe there will be cuts, but there’s also going to be new jobs” from other  industries, he said. “… You can’t worry about it; you just try to raise your  profile and get people to want to be a part of what’s happening here.”

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