Lockheed Martin’s Camden workforce growing to meet demand

War propels recruitment in Arkansas

Technicians work on the HIMARS production line at the Lockheed Martin Camden Operations facility in Camden on Monday, Feb. 27, 2023. Military equipment such as HIMARS and M270 weapons systems bound for the war in Ukraine are manufactured at the Camden facility. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Colin Murphey)
Technicians work on the HIMARS production line at the Lockheed Martin Camden Operations facility in Camden on Monday, Feb. 27, 2023. Military equipment such as HIMARS and M270 weapons systems bound for the war in Ukraine are manufactured at the Camden facility. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Colin Murphey)

CAMDEN -- Lockheed Martin has faced a surge in demand for its weapons because of the war between Russia and Ukraine, and the company is continuing a recruiting effort in south Arkansas to expand its workforce.

The number of employees at Lockheed Martin's complex is set to eventually exceed 1,200, up from about 600 in 2018.

Lockheed Martin faces competition for local talent, but Site Director for Camden Operations Aaron Huckaby said Monday the company anticipates increasing its staff by an additional 200 employees over the next five years.

The area near Camden is home to the largest concentration of aerospace and defense companies in Arkansas, including Raytheon Technologies and Aerojet Rocketdyne. There are 100,000 potential workers living in a region that includes Camden, El Dorado and Magnolia, he said.

"If you look at our historical record, we're very well positioned to meet the demand," Huckaby said. "So I don't feel that there's a lot of pressure on us to be able to meet it. I think that we're very well positioned to meet the demand either at 200 or if things increase, then we'll still be very well positioned."

Russia's invasion of Ukraine a year ago heightened the call for Lockheed Martin's battlefield weapons systems. The company produces about four M270 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems per month, or 48 per year, with no current plans to increase that number, Huckaby said Monday during a media tour at the Camden facility.

The company was producing 48 HIMARS, or High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, annually at the beginning of 2022, increasing that number to 60 units, until the U.S. Army asked the company to increase production capacity to 96 units per year -- eight units per month -- by the end of 2024.

The company is well on its way to meeting that production target without necessarily hiring all 200 projected future employees just for HIMARS production, Huckaby said.

Huckaby said the company is looking to add an additional shift on HIMARS production to meet the 96 annual unit goal.

Current Department of Defense contracts have the Camden factory replenishing weapons stocks for the U.S. military and for U.S. allies, officials said, to cover for weapons already sent to the front lines in Ukraine.

Some of the HIMARS trucks will go directly to Ukraine.

The Camden facility currently operates one 10-hour shift a day, four days a week.

"The second shift would be a night shift or an alternative shift, maybe a Friday through the weekend," Huckaby said.

Ouachita Partnership for Economic Development Executive Director James Silliman said there have been more concerted efforts in recent years to increase a local pool of skilled workers who can work in aerospace and defense jobs in the area.

"It's kind of a joint effort that we're all working on and trying to address, to increase that workforce here," Silliman said.

"There's probably been more of a concerted effort than there has been in the past. Lockheed is expanding their facility footprint here to service different contracts with the U.S. Department of Defense, so as a result of that, there's kind of an ongoing effort to ramp up hiring," Silliman said.

State government and economic development groups have recently been gathering feedback about how to retain and recruit employees for companies like Lockheed; housing is one issue, Huckaby said.

"Highland Industrial Park is looking at being a partner within that solution, daycare is another thing you don't always think of," Huckaby said.

Staffing at the Camden facility has roughly doubled over the past five years. There were 1,047 employees at the Camden facility at the end of 2022, up from 594 employees in 2018; 655 employees in 2019; 829 employees in 2020; and 974 employees in 2021.

At the Camden facility, 45% of employees have an associate degree or higher and 12% have a military background.

Thirty-four percent of Camden's assemblers are also female; women could be seen on the floor performing precision-focused jobs throughout the facility on Monday.

"One thing a lot of people comment on is the number of female operators that we have out on the line, especially on our launcher side," Huckaby said.

The company participates in recruiting efforts at Southern Arkansas University and the University of Arkansas.

"[We are] looking for mechanical engineers, manufacturing engineers, chemical engineers that can fill that demand," Huckaby said.

Lockheed Martin also hosts family engagement nights for K-12 students, and its Camden Manufacturing Apprentice Program started at Southern Arkansas University Tech in East Camden in 2020, which allows cross-training across production areas and programs.

"We have a lot of different STEM activities that we do at all grade levels to draw that interest because we recognize not everyone wants to go to college, some people might have a career path right out of high school and we want them to have those opportunities," Huckaby said.

Huckaby said these programs are about getting the message to Arkansas' youth that the image of manufacturing has changed.

"It's just to show the kids at a very early age that this isn't a manufacturing that the other generations were accustomed to, it's very high tech, it's a very clean environment, and there's a lot of robotics and automation, things that speak to their passions."

Lockheed Martin also works with nearby Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, La., to attract engineering students and support staff.

Automation technology is also being used to improve efficiency and meet increased production demand in Camden.

In October, Lockheed Martin announced the opening of a new 85,000-square-foot All-Up Round III facility to support increased production of PAC-3 missiles for the Patriot missile system, taking production from 350 to 500 missile segment enhancements.

Assembly robots in the PAC-3 program have helped increase efficiency on the line.

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