Joe Courtney, HARTFORD COURANT
30 January 2016
Earlier this week, one of Connecticut's oldest employers sent a jolt through the headlines. Electric Boat President Jeff Geiger announced plans to hire 1,500 engineers, metal trades workers and support personnel at its Connecticut facilities in 2016. The announcement included a positive forecast for the years ahead, with projected growth from 14,000 employees up to 18,000 by 2030.
The upswing at Electric Boat will be felt in Groton and New London and it will ripple across our state, in hundreds of small businesses and skilled manufacturing firms that support the work at the shipyard. This is welcome news for our state, which has had its confidence shaken in the past year, and left many doubting our competitive posture in the global economy.
I sensed, however, skepticism and surprise in reporters' questions and comments as they tried to square this news from EB with the prevailing narrative of the state's business climate. For those who have followed EB closely over the past eight years, though, this news was hardly a surprise. Instead, it reflects changes in naval policy and congressional priorities that align with emerging threats and challenges around the world – and which should give Connecticut confidence in the projections of EB's growth.
For nearly 100 years, Electric Boat has been known for its unparalleled record of building the most capable and reliable undersea vessels. Although the company saw difficult years in the post-Cold War era, EB now stands at the center of our nation's plan to realign our forces toward more undersea operations, and replace our aging – but critical – fleet of nuclear-armed submarines. Experts and Navy leaders are increasingly concerned that our nation's undersea dominance – long unmatched – is increasingly challenged.
As outlets as diverse as The New York Times and The Washington Times have reported, submarine construction is the most effective way to project power. This naval strategy has been demonstrated by our nation's allies (such as Australia and India) and competitors (China, Russia and Iran). Many nations are rapidly closing the gap in undersea capabilities, making the need for sustained U.S. submarine production increasingly important.
Although investment in new submarines languished in the 1990s and early 2000s, Congress boosted submarine production from one to two a year starting in 2011. Because building a new Virginia-class submarine takes five years, the full load of the work in the shipyard took some time to materialize – but it is now hitting full stride. As Mr. Geiger pointed out this week, the Groton shipyard is working on the USS Illinois, the USS Colorado and the USS South Dakota, as well as doing repairs on the USS Minnesota. It also has a backlog of 16 submarines under contract, 10 of which are under construction. The cumulative effect of this cascade of new shipbuilding, as well as design work on the Ohio replacement class submarines, has led to the long-term and sustainable spike in hiring.
As the ranking member of the House Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee that authorizes Navy shipbuilding, I have the privilege of seeing up close the role that Connecticut's manufacturing sector plays in our nation's defense. Constructing a vessel that operates in an environment that does not sustain human life, with stealth and the tools to perform surveillance and deterrence, might be more complex than even spacecraft.
For a century, Connecticut has had thousands of welders, shipwrights, engineers and designers go to work at the crack of dawn to make it all work. That team is aided by more than 470 Connecticut suppliers, many doing precision manufacturing of the highest order. These employers are in every corner of the state and are seeing their operations grow right alongside EB's. Our community colleges and workforce investment experts are working to help train the next generation of engineers and manufacturers whose impact will be felt far beyond the Groton shipyard.
Connecticut has challenges and hard work ahead. As this week's announcement demonstrated, however, one of the hardest tasks in our Navy's fleet is being entrusted to the people of our state. That's a big deal.
Joe Courtney is the U.S. representative for Connecticut's 2nd Congressional District.