SLIDELL, LA (WVUE) - It is the biggest employer in Slidell, and around 200 workers have been given notice of a workforce reduction.
Textron Systems says it's re-planning its vehicle production program at two Slidell plants that build armored troop carriers. They provided the needed protection for soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan after the Humvee proved too deadly.
Textron made hundreds of millions of dollars building the vehicles, first in New Orleans East, then at two locations in Slidell - one on Front Street; the other on Stone Road.
"It was packed, 500 cars, now it's a ghost town," said Slidell businessman Francis Harsch.
Since U.S. troops began pulling out of Iraq and Afghanistan, the Textron plants have grown increasingly quiet. Two weeks ago, about 200 employees were called in.
"We didn't see this coming," said one worker who didn't want to be identified.
All were told they would be laid off, effective Nov.3.
"They brought everyone in to a certain room to do paperwork with the unemployment office," said Siller.
And Slidell now braces for a big economic punch.
"It's gonna hurt the economy and hurt my business," said Harsch.
Textron officials say this isn't the end of these plants.Spokesman Tom Williams said the company will restart vehicle production sometime within the next year. They just don't know when.
"They told us that the layoff would be temporary...a temporary shutdown, but not a temporary layoff," said Siller.
Textron spokesman Tom Williams said,'It is our hope that some of the affected workers will be able to obtain employment with the company again.
"A lot of people who worked in New Orleans East were surprised that they weren't asked to go there," said the unidentified worker.
The Textron plant in the East just landed major military contracts to build hovercraft and unmanned boats. It will ramp up to more than 500 workers over the next couple of years, at the rate of about 20 workers a month, starting next year.
"A lot of highly skilled welders, not just regular welding, thin aluminum, and armored steel," said Textron Vice President Rich Valenti.
Slidell workers are confused.
"I heard they contacted some people about jobs, but not myself," said Siller.
The timing is never good.
"It's depressing," said one worker
"I feel sorry for them, it's a bad time of year to lose your job," said Harsch.
As trained welders, they should be able to find work elsewhere, but many say they'd like to stay with Textron.
Slidell's mayor is reacting to the layoffs.
"Textron's very important to the city," said Mayor Freddy Drennan. "We were told this was a temporary situation, and we hope that will be the case."
The Louisiana Workforce Commission will hold a job fair Oct. 23 at Textron's Front Street plant.