Spending Bill May Lead To Thousands Of New Defense Jobs
By Russell Blair
May 1, 2017
The $1 trillion-plus spending bill Congress is expected to approve this week includes tens of millions of dollars in new funding for the Navy's submarine program, keeping production on track to increase to three submarines a year, but sharply increasing the demand for skilled workers.
A third submarine would be a huge boon to Electric Boat, the Groton-based subsidiary of General Dynamics Corp. and a major employer in eastern Connecticut, which already has ramped up hiring to prepare for construction of the Columbia-class ballistic-missile submarine in 2021.
Submarine production is scheduled to shift from two Virginias to one Virginia and one Columbia in 2021. But U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, says he's optimistic that schedule will be accelerated to two Virginias and one Columbia a year.
"The goal obviously is not to have that dip [in production]," said Courtney, whose district includes Electric Boat and many of its suppliers.
The appropriations bill that will be voted on this week, which funds the government through the end of September, includes $85 million for advanced procurement funding to order parts and streamline production of the Virginia-class fast attack submarine.
"The $85 million that we got in the budget ... basically helps with the effort" to increase submarine production to three a year, Courtney said. A final decision on the rate of submarine production is expected this year or next.
The budget bill also has increases for other sectors of Connecticut's defense industry, including Sikorsky and Pratt & Whitney. Orders of F-35 fighter jets — which are powered by Pratt & Whitney engines — and Sikorsky Black Hawk helicopters will be increased over their previous levels.
Employment at Electric Boat, in Groton and Quonset Point, R.I., recently surpassed 15,000 and the company is hoping to grow its workforce to 18,000 by 2030. But that goal doesn't account for production of a third submarine.
"Electric Boat is the most accomplished submarine builder in the world," said defense analyst Loren B. Thompson at the Lexington Institute, a Virginia think tank. "There's no doubt they have the facilities and the skills to build world-class submarines, so the only question is whether they have the workforce to sustain a higher rate."
The Navy last year released a plan to increase its fleet to 355 ships, including 18 additional attack submarines. Last week, the Congressional Budget Office, at the request of Courtney and one of his colleagues on the House Armed Services Committee, issued a report looking at the costs of building the fleet up to that size within 15, 20, 25 or 30 years.
Building two Virginia-class submarines a year, or more, "would require a substantial increase in the workforces at both Electric Boat and Newport News as well as substantial investment in their infrastructure over the next five to 10 years," the report said.
On a call with investor analysts last week, Phebe N. Novakovic, CEO of General Dynamics, said the company was ready to build more submarines, but it needed the proper workforce, supply chain and facilities.
"With respect to the increase in shipbuilding, to the extent that that materializes and we can understand both the quantum and the timing of those increases, we have the capacity to increase production in each of our shipyards, as does the majority of our supply base," she said.
"But with all of these – with any increase in production, we would need to replenish as needed our workforce, the supplier base, and facilities over time."
Steps are already being taken to recruit and train new workers. A jobs pipeline linking EB with vocational schools, community colleges and training and recruitment centers helps match jobs with employees, and funding is being sought for apprenticeships for small companies.
And in another piece of good news for Courtney's district, the appropriations bill includes $5 million in federal funding for the planned National Coast Guard Museum in New London.