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Pratt to move division from Fla.

More than 3,000 jobs in the West Palm Beach area will be lost. State officials say the company ignored them.

Pratt & Whitney, which makes engines for some of the nation's top fighter jets, plans to transfer its military engine operations from Florida to Connecticut in a sweeping restructuring that will cost Florida more than 3,000 jobs.

Pratt & Whitney's departure, and the jobs it takes with it, is among the largest in Florida in recent years. IBM took 9,600 jobs out of South Florida in two big leaps.

The company said 1,000 salaried employees will be among those trimmed from the payroll, most of them in Florida. The Florida cuts will be centered at facilities in West Palm Beach.

Pratt workers were told of the restructuring in a series of plant meetings Thursday.

"A lot of us don't understand why it's cheaper to go some place with higher living expenses and things like that," employee Carol Rinaldi said as she drove out of the West Palm Beach parking lot after learning of the moves. "We have a hard time seeing the benefits."

The company currently employs more than 4,000 people in Florida. More than 1,000 employees will remain in West Palm Beach with the engine testing and space propulsion businesses based there, Pratt said.

More than 2,000 Florida employees will be offered jobs in Connecticut, company spokesman Mark Sullivan said.

In Florida, officials criticized Pratt & Whitney for not giving the state a chance to keep the jet engine manufacturer's business.

"It's like the weatherman coming on the station and saying, "Just like to let you know a tornado is about to touch down,' " said Sean Spicer, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Mark Foley, R-Palm Beach Gardens.

Rumors of a Florida shutdown had been circulating for weeks, but United Technologies rebuffed recent requests from Gov. Jeb Bush, Foley and other officials for information.

Bush said in a statement Thursday that the company has agreed to work with the state to "ease this painful transition." Despite the best efforts locally, he said the final decision was "ultimately out of our hands."

"We will lose not only a large portion of a company that has grown with Florida since the 1950s, but also many of our neighbors and friends," Bush said. "Now is the time to focus our energies on helping those affected by standing shoulder to shoulder with the people of Palm Beach and Martin counties."

Pratt, a subsidiary of United Technologies Corp., also said Thursday that it would move its jet turbine manufacturing operation from North Haven, Conn., to its East Hartford plant. Most of the 1,300 North Haven workers will have an opportunity to transfer to East Hartford, Sullivan said.

In addition, Pratt plans to move its Connecticut repair business to company facilities in Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas. The restructuring is to be completed by next year.

"We have made considerable progress transforming Pratt into a lean organization, reducing costs and improving our ability to respond to customers," Pratt president Louis Chenevert said. "However, we see continuing competitive pressures which make it critical that we eliminate excess floor space and more closely match our cost structure to changing business conditions."

As U.S. defense spending has declined, Pratt has been hit hard by a fall in demand for its military engines, including power plants for the F-15 and F-16 fighters. The company also makes engines for commercial aircraft but has been outbid by competitors.

Paul Nisbet, an analyst for Newport, R.I.-based JSA Research Inc., said Pratt was wise to consolidate and cut costs as the market shrinks. The consolidation should help the company hold down costs on its military and domestic contracts, Nisbet said. If anything, he said, the move should strengthen Pratt's link with the military.

Company officials met with top Air Force and Defense Department officials and assured them there would be no disruptions in crucial military contracts, company spokesman Sullivan said.

Employees whose jobs are cut or who decide against moving will receive severance packages and help finding a new job. Sullivan said the number of layoffs necessary would not be known until it is clear how many employees will follow their jobs to new locations.

Sullivan said the moves are the second phase of a restructuring announced in 1998, with a goal of ultimately reducing 3,500 workers from the payroll. The first phase eliminated 2,000 jobs.

In a separate development, Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., also owned by United Technologies, announced plans to relocate its West Palm Beach-based flight test and S-76 helicopter operations to an as-yet undecided location. The company has 520 employees in West Palm Beach.

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