Joe Courtney: New Submarine Facility will Define Connecticut’s Economy
The Hartford Courant
By: Joe Courtney
September 12, 2019
On Friday, a ceremonial groundbreaking will represent the start of construction of a facility that will help define the economy of Connecticut and southern New England for decades to come.
The $800 million production facility for the Columbia-class submarine program is a generational enterprise that has and will employ thousands of trades workers, engineers, designers and planners to replace a critical fleet of aging Ohio-class submarines that have been on patrol for over 40 years. The new submarines are the U.S. Navy’s top acquisition priority, and on-time delivery is a vital part of our nuclear deterrent force that has been on silent patrol since the 1960s.
On Friday morning, the first ringing strike of the shovel should be a signal to all who doubt the future of America’s manufacturing workforce and Connecticut’s role in it: America is investing in bold new technologies right here in Connecticut, and it’s an investment that will be felt in machine shops and supplier companies throughout the region.
The new facility has to be built because the new submarines are immense. They are 2 1/2 times the size of Virginia-class submarines presently being built at that shipyard and the largest submarine ever to be built by the United States, so a larger and safer structure is required to assemble the massive modular pieces that modern shipbuilding employs.
The contract for its construction will ensure that only Connecticut and Rhode Island building trades workers will be employed at the project. Additionally, all of the permits have been approved to make sure this will be a clean project that preserves the water quality of the Thames River.
Back in 2007, the warning signals began to light up that the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines were running out of hull life and reactor life in the coming years, and there was a need to catalyze planning and design of their replacement. When I first came to Congress that year, however, I was stunned to learn that the Navy and Electric Boat were not actively designing the new sea-based deterrent. It was the first time in fifty years that the next class of submarine was not under active design.
As a freshman member of the seapower and projection forces subcommittee, I worked with my colleagues to get the first $8 million down payment on the program. Funding for Columbia has steadily grown since then, and it’s done so through multiple Congresses and administrations — a sign of the enduring support for the Columbia program across party lines. The program’s strong investment will continue with $9.1 billion of combined procurement and research and development funding over the next five years, and more than $26 billion through the remainder of the program.
As the plans for Columbia have developed, the engineering workforce at Electric Boat has grown, filling up the old Pfizer building with 4,000 new employees who have been intently focused on getting the new design right, and completed on time.
What’s more impressive is the fact that many of those new hires are millennials. Over 50 percent of EB’s workforce today are millennials, and they’ve made over 1,000 hires directly from the Eastern Connecticut manufacturing pipeline — a hiring trend we can expect to continue while EB works to fill the additional 1,400 skilled trade and support positions that will be needed at this new facility.
The combined size of EB’s Connecticut and Rhode Island shipyards will grow from 17,000 employees to over 20,000 as Columbia ramps up.
This project isn’t just good news for Groton and Electric Boat. New jobs will help attract even more young people to the manufacturing pipeline and to Connecticut’s community colleges, and they will create fresh opportunities for new business among the hundreds of supplier firms and machine shops in the region that help make these submarines possible.
In Rhode Island, the first production work began in 2016 on the first modular components of Columbia. This Friday’s groundbreaking in eastern Connecticut is another milestone in this project, which will continue through 2042 for vessels that will be at sea until the 2080s.
This project will change the face of the shipyard in Groton, and its impact will be felt throughout our state. For the naysayers, the turning of the earth this Friday will powerfully demonstrate the reanimation of our state’s contribution to high standards of excellence and our national security for years to come.
Democrat Joe Courtney represents Connecticut’s 2nd District in the U.S. House of Representatives and is the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces.
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