Doors closing for now on North Charleston container manufacturer

A worker grinds a steel component at Charleston Marine Containers Inc. in North Charleston in 2010.

The owner of a metal container manufacturer on the former Navy base is closing its North Charleston plant, blaming a slowdown in orders from the federal government.

San Diego-based Kratos Defense & Security Solutions Inc. will be shutting down Charleston Marine Containers Inc. by late April. It will keep the factory in the hopes it will reopen it if business rebounds.

Kratos notified the state Department of Employment and Workforce that 86 employees will lose their jobs by April 20. Layoffs began Friday.

In announcing the shutdown, Kratos CEO Eric DeMarco said in a written statement that in “an extended period” of reduced Department of Defense spending, “customers expect and demand that we continue to reduce costs and improve efficiency to remain financially strong and competitive.”

He called the decision to mothball the South Carolina business “extremely difficult.”

DeMarco said the company is keeping the 250,000-square-foot plant on Noisette Boulevard “for the future when certain programs Kratos has previously been working under are turned back on, and certain new opportunities come to fruition.”

“We anxiously look forward to the day when we can welcome our Charleston employees back to CMCI,” he added.

Kratos acquired the plant as part of its 2010 purchase of Gichner Holdings Inc, a maker of specialized portable shelters designed to protect military troops and sensitive war-fighting equipment

The North Charleston business has been around for about 20 years.

CMCI’s products have included two-door heavy-duty steel boxes that can be interlocked to form a conventional 20-foot- or 40-foot container and can be hauled by truck, airplane, ship or rail car. When broken down, the individual units can be deployed to war zones and dispersed to remote areas by smaller ground vehicles or helicopters.

The company also became a big supplier of blast-protected shelters for U.S. embassies and consulates in dangerous locations, said Tom Mills, president of Kratos’ Pennsylvania-based modular system business.

But a sharp and unexpected decline in orders from the U.S. State Department led to the decision to close CMCI “so we stay viable,” he said. Mills said he will keep his office in North Charleston.

“We fully intend to be back in business there building product,” he said Monday.

Contact John McDermott at 843-937-5572.