Weapons contractor moving to town (10/22/09)

General Dynamics to occupy IBM building next year

Oct. 22, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

One of Burlington’s largest employers will move to Williston in late 2010.

General Dynamics, which makes defense systems for the U.S. Department of Defense and other countries, announced its plans Friday.

General Dynamics’ Vermont-based Armament and Technical Products division will move into a building owned by IBM Corp. in that company’s Williston facility on IBM Road. Roughly 450 employees will move with General Dynamics to Williston. Employees will remain at the company’s Lakeside Drive location in Burlington until the IBM building is renovated for General Dynamics.

Town Manager Rick McGuire said once the company moves to Williston, it will become one of the town’s largest employers.

According to DefenseNews.com, General Dynamics, with its headquarters in Charlotte, N.C., is the world’s fifth largest defense contractor, working with more than 30 countries.

“Our business is changing, and we need to take steps to ensure we are as efficient and effective as we can be,” Bill Gural, vice president and general manager of General Dynamics’ Burlington location, said in a written statement.

“By moving, we’ll be adopting a new environment for our employees that will improve their ability to collaborate, make them more efficient and help them remain focused on accomplishing our customers’ missions,” he added.

The company is also leaving Burlington due to increased rent and other financial factors, according to Joyce Weyersburg, communications director for General Dynamics’ headquarters in North Carolina.

“I know we were looking for lower costs and convenience for our employees,” Weyersburg said.

Weyersburg also said the company is committed to staying in Vermont, and signed a long-term lease with IBM. She was unsure of when the lease expires.

General Dynamics makes defense and weapons systems, including aircraft defense, missile and soldier weapons systems, for various branches of the U.S. armed services. The Vermont facility does not manufacture any of the weapons, but develops much of the company’s programs and designs technology for its products.

“There’s really not much changing except for the actual physical location,” Weyersburg said.

General Dynamics is currently located in 204,000 square feet of space in Burlington Technology Park. The company will downsize when it moves into the 112,000 square foot Building 862 at IBM.

According to IBM spokesperson Jeff Couture, IBM used the space for product design work. The company was already consolidating throughout its Williston and Essex Junction campuses before General Dynamics signed a lease.

“We were having spotty use of that space,” Couture said.

Couture foresees an easy move for General Dynamics. He said there might be minor interior modifications but no exterior additions.

McGuire said he’s happy to have General Dynamics come to Williston, since it means the company is remaining in Vermont.

“It’s a big deal for the region to have retained these jobs,” McGuire said.

He said he’d only heard rumors about the company’s move before the announcement on Friday. Selectboard Chairman Terry Macaig also said the news of the move came as a welcome surprise. He expects the hundreds of workers to benefit Williston’s economy by shopping and eating at local establishments.

“Other than increased traffic, I think it’ll be a good thing,” Macaig said.

Despite the optimistic outlook, General Dynamics has drawn criticism in the past. Demonstrators have protested the company’s products, and the fact that General Dynamics earns significant tax breaks from the state. In May 2008, 10 protestors were arrested at a demonstration at the company’s Burlington offices.

While Williston’s IBM campus is considered a secure location, McGuire said the town’s law enforcement resources could be affected if the company is frequently protested in the future.