The announcement that Gulfstream Aerospace Corp. would be abandoning Long Beach was a complete surprise to Long Beach officials, who said they first learned of the decision hours before it became public.

“Yesterday, we received their embargoed press release just as a heads up,” said Long Beach Economic Development Director John Keisler. “That was the first time we got that news.”

Gulfstream on Monday announced it would phase out its Long Beach operations over the next six months. As of June 30, the facility employed about 660 people.

“We were surprised but are grateful to them for their time here,” Mayor Robert Garcia said in a statement.

Gulfstream said Long Beach employees will have the opportunity to apply for positions at its Van Nuys, Georgia and Wisconsin facilities, where workforce expansions are planned. However, the company declined to comment on exactly how many positions would be absorbed or if some employees would be laid off.

The move marks a drastic decrease in Gulfstream’s presence in California. The company currently occupies 22.5 acres in Long Beach with multiple hangars and administrative offices. The company also was awarded 20 additional acres in 2018 for redevelopment, which never occurred. The Van Nuys facility is a mere 1.5 acres and the company’s only other California presence is a 1.2-acre facility in Lincoln.

Jeremy Harris, president and CEO of the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, released a terse statement placing the blame for the company’s decision squarely on city and state officials.

“[The Chamber] is dismayed by the recent Gulfstream announcement to close its Long Beach operation and the impact the decision will have on 700 area employees,” Harris wrote. “Although Gulfstream put forth the effort to maintain its presence in the city—at least through 2024—city and state officials lacked the motivation and fortitude to secure their future after 34 years in Long Beach.”

While Garcia said the city has always had “good and open lines of communication” with Gulfstream, Keisler admitted that communication has suffered as a direct result of the pandemic.

“Over the last few months we haven’t necessarily had the same communication with some of our companies,” Keisler said, noting that COVID-19 has spread the city thin and caused many businesses to reposition and rethink operations. “So the fact that we may not have heard much from any company during these times is not a surprise.”

Because the city was given no advance notice of Gulfstream’s intention, Keisler said he and his staff did not have an opportunity to work with the company in an attempt to retain their presence in Long Beach. He said the city often looks at local, county and federal resources to incentivize businesses to come and stay in the city.

Gulfstream declined to comment on how long the company was contemplating the decision and whether it was a result of the pandemic.

While the loss of a major corporation that has called Long Beach home for 34 years is a blow to the city, both Garcia and Keisler said they are bullish on the opportunities presented with so much open space within the Long Beach Airport complex.

“As soon as we heard, we communicated with our [team] to begin putting together a prospectus that will become our plan for identifying some really unique opportunities,” Keisler said.

Over the last five years, Long Beach has gradually become a hub for small satellite launch firms, with the city now home to five such companies—Virgin Orbit, SpinLaunch, Rocket Lab and Relativity Space. Over the last several months, Keisler said more than one of the companies have inquired about additional space for expansion. Outside aerospace manufacturers have also inquired about space in Long Beach this year, Keisler added.

“We have one of the best space ecosystems in the country,” Garcia said.

Whether existing companies expand or new firms come to the city, Keisler said the goal is to funnel current Gulfstream employees into those new positions, thereby maintaining the area’s skilled workforce.

“We hate to see a longtime company leave but we want to move quickly,” Keisler said. “These are valuable, sought-after spaces.”

Brandon Richardson is a reporter and photojournalist for the Long Beach Post and Long Beach Business Journal.