Redondo Beach outpost of Northrop Grumman

Redondo Beach outpost of Northrop Grumman Photo by Ringo Chiu.

The number of workers employed by Los Angeles County’s 50 largest manufacturers reflect an industrywide trend of decline, falling about 3 percent from a year earlier to almost 78,000 as of mid-July.

That was due primarily to the exit of two of last year’s top companies on the Business Journal’s list of largest manufacturers, as ranked by number of employees – American Apparel Inc., which last year ranked No. 4 before going bankrupt, and Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc., previously at No. 6 before relocating its headquarters from Torrance to Plano, Texas. Another company, longtime L.A. resident Ducommun Inc., is also heading out, moving its headquarters to Santa Ana. (See story page 1.)

A segment of the region’s traditional manufacturing base accounted for the lion’s share of this year’s list. Aerospace firms comprised the top five and represented more than half of the total workforce among the 50 companies listed. (This week’s list doesn’t include biotech, biomedical and pharmaceutical product makers, which are ranked on their own annual lists.)

Northrop Grumman Corp. stayed at No. 1, reporting a payroll of 16,600 people, the same number as it reported last year. Rounding out the top five are Boeing Co., Raytheon Co., Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (or SpaceX) and Lockheed Martin Corp.

SpaceX, the only one headquartered in the county, added the most jobs over the past year, growing by 600 employees to 4,000.

“The reason Northrop Grumman and other aerospace companies are operating somewhat well are due to defense contracts,” said George Ferguson, senior aerospace analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence. “This is not the case for other manufacturers in general.”

Northrop, in particular, could see strong L.A. job growth on the horizon thanks to recent military contracts, Ferguson said.

The company was based in Hawthorne from the late 1930s until relocating its headquarters to Falls Church, Va., in 2011, but Northrop maintains a massive manufacturing and research campus in Redondo Beach.

It reported sales growth of almost 7 percent in the second quarter of this year to $6.4 billion from $6 billion in the same period last year. Second-quarter net earnings increased nearly 7 percent year to year to $552 million from $517 million.

That followed the aerospace giant winning a $35.8 million contract in February for its paint coating operations in Palmdale.

The company also is reaping the benefits of a 2015 contract to build a fleet of 80 to 100 B-21 bombers for the U.S. military. The deal could run $50 billion to $80 billion. The company has a long-held contract to build parts for F-35 fighter jets to serve the Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy as well.