Conax Florida, a division of British defense contractor Cobham PLC, is closing its St. Petersburg plant by September, idling 141 workers.
The shutdown was disclosed in a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification notice filed with state and local officials Tuesday.
The company, which does business under the name Cobham Life Support, blamed the closing on "a continuing downturn in government and commercial business over a period of several years." The layoffs at 2801 75th St. N will occur over a period of months, Cobham Life Support human resources director Clifford Nigh wrote in a letter accompanying the WARN notice. Some workers will be able to transfer to other Cobham locations, Nigh said, but the number is uncertain.
In 2009, officials from half a dozen government agencies, including the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, raided Conax's three-building complex in St. Petersburg. According to search warrants, the raid was focused on the components, performance and inspection of products that Conax makes which are used in parachuting devices.
The raid prompted U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young to withdraw support for a $4 million funding request for the defense contractor. Young, R-Indian Shores, had been a major proponent for the contractor, securing $28.5 million in federal earmarks for the company since 2005.
Conax has been best known for making safety devices, including life preservers that automatically inflate when they hit water. The company also makes pyrovalves or pyrotechnical valves used mainly in spacecraft and rocketry. The life support branch is responsible for small restraints such as seat belts and ejection seat components.