Defense firms Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman posted third-quarter gains this week, as two of the region’s largest employers stay profitable during the economic slowdown.

“They represent the top two defense contracting firms in the region,” said J. Thomas Sadowski, interim president and CEO of the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore. “They employ a number of well-educated, talented people.”

Bethesda-based Lockheed employs 9,800 in the Baltimore region and Washington suburbs. The firm’s net earnings for the quarter increased 2 percent to $782 million from $766 million in the same period last year. Year-to-date earnings are up 7 percent from 2007.

Sales for the quarter slipped 5 percent to $10.6 billion from $11 billion. A 9 percent increase in sales of information systems and global services was offset by a 14 percent decrease in sales for space systems and a 13 percent decrease in sales for aeronautics, Lockheed said.

“With solid performance through the first nine months of the year, our employees and leadership team continue to meet important customer requirements and focus on enhancing shareholder value,” Lockheed Chairman, President and CEO Bob Stevens said in a statement.

Northrop Grumman, based in Los Angeles, employs nearly 11,000 in the area, making it one of the top 10 employers in the area, according to the Economic Alliance. 

Northrop Grumman’s net income jumped 4.7 percent to $512 million from $489 million, while sales increased 6 percent to $8.4 billion from $7.9 billion in the same period last year.

“This was a strong quarter for Northrop Grumman,” Chairman and CEO Ronald Sugar said in a statement. “Our strong cash flow, ample liquidity and record backlog are a solid foundation for the future and reflect the hard work and dedication of our 120,000 employees.”

“There are multiple agencies in the area they contract for, and they have a number of educational partnerships with our education institutions,” Sadowski said. “They’re just vital components to our regional economy.”