Explaining Southern California's economy

SpaceX claims its first victims as Rocketdyne lays off 100

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Photo Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX CEO and Chief Designer Elon Musk watches Dragon's progress inside of SpaceX Mission Control in Hawthorne last May. Rocketdyne is firing, but he could be hiring.

Not SpaceX directly. NASA is backing off from running its own missions - and is turning over the servicing of the International Space Station to commercial space companies like SpaceX. Elon Musk's Hawthorne-based startup just recovered the capsule from its first mission to the ISS on a $1.6 billion contract. 

But the money that NASA is spending on SpaceX and others who are offering lower-cost private missions is money it won't be spending on Rocketdyne, which was sold in July by parent company United Technologies to GenCorp for $550 million.

So Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne is lay ing off 100 employees, most in the San Fernando Valley,  the Daily News reports.

If commercial space traffic really takes off (the puns are impossible to avoid here), this could become more of a trend. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, long-term, for Rocketdyne and other's Southern California based workers. SpaceX has created the groundwork for the region to become a center of private, startup space companies. They'll be employers, and if they're successful, they could make rocket scientists more than smart. They could make them rich.


Rocketdyne is only worth half an Instagram?

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AP Photo/Reed Saxon

This Feb. 12, 2009 photo shows buildings at the old Rocketdyne facility, the Santa Susana Field Laboratory, in the Simi Valley area near Los Angeles. The company was just sold for $550 million.

The success of SpaceX and its historic Space Station servicing mission put the space business in California back on the map. But the sale of on a space pioneer in the Golden State reminds us that the economy has changed. In the 1950s, high-tech meant aerospace and rocketry. In the second decade of the 20th century, those industries still command respect and inspire a romantic view of the future. But if you want to sell your company for billions, smartphones and photo-sharing apps are the way to go.

This encapsulates the rise of Silicon Valley and the decline of Southern California. Although SoCal can still turn in some good results. As I reported back in March, United Technologies decided to sell Rocketdyne — the company makes exactly what it sounds like it makes, rocket boosters — to fund a record-breaking $16.5-billion acquisition of Goodrich Corp. UT has now completed that sale, to GenCorp for $550 million, according to the L.A. Times.


United Technologies is selling very-cool-named Rocketdyne

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AP Photo/Reed Saxon

This Feb. 12, 2009 photo shows buildings at the old Rocketdyne facility, the Santa Susana Field Laboratory, in the Simi Valley area near Los Angeles.

You'd have to work pretty hard to find a company with a cooler name and cooler history than Rocketdyne, located in Canoga Park, Calif. The firm makes rocket engines and has, under its own (cool) name since the mid-1950s. Now it's being sold by parent United Technologies, so that UT can spend $16.5 billion to buy Goodrich Corp.

Rocketdyne is currently part of Pratt & Whitney and is no stranger to getting passed around. The sale is also a good example of how even relatively sold companies like United Technologies (market cap: around $78 billion) need to go through some gyrations to grow. 

According to Businessweek, UT wanted to sell $4 billion in new stock to fund its purchase of Goodrich, but it's now going to sell assets, including Rocketdyne, and issue a pile of new debt. Given that the assets sales are likely to raise only about $3 billion, UT might have had to take on new debt anyway. But there's no mention in press reports of using stock for the transaction, so this is looking pretty much like a cash-and-debt deal.