It’s an awkward celebration to be sure. Electric Boat is in the midst of ramping up production of submarines on a par with the Cold War days and World War II, with the largest employer in the two-state region continuing a hiring spree it started well over a year ago. And hiring is news to celebrate.
Company leaders are pleading with officials of the two states and educators on both sides of the border to help produce students with the skills that can easily transfer to engineering design work and the trades of electrical, pipe fitting, welding, and sheet metal work. They can’t fill positions fast enough, hence the opening Monday of the Westerly Higher Education and Job Skills Center in collaboration with the Community College of Rhode Island and Electric Boat.
Were it not for heightened global tensions — and the falloff in submarine production years ago — such a buildup likely would not be necessary. So yes, it’s an awkward celebration, but for households in southwestern Rhode Island and southeastern Connecticut, it is certainly cause for celebration.
Since at least 2014, the company’s annual update for area legislators and business leaders has been upbeat, with forecasts of not just hiring, but strong hiring through the next decade at both Quonset Point and the Groton shipyard. The expansion in hiring has been the result of the $17.6 billion contract signed in April 2014 to build 10 Virginia-class submarines at the rate of two per year. The contract was the largest shipbuilding contract ever awarded by the U.S. Navy.
But more recently the Navy asked Electric Boat if it could do more. During Monday’s business update, EB President Jeffrey Geiger spoke of the Navy’s proposal to add 47 ships to the fleet, 18 of which would be attack subs. With 15 attack subs already under contract — 11 of which are under construction — the rosy economic outlook could get even rosier. Already EB expects to employ 18,000 by 2030, up from the current 14,500.
In addition to hiring at Quonset and Groton, all of this work means more work for the estimated 3,000 smaller businesses that supply parts and material to EB. They’re not all in this region — they represent 47 states — but many small businesses have sprouted up here to serve the needs of EB. Presumably, they would need to hire as well to keep up with demand. And that trickle-down effect keeps people shopping, dining out, upgrading vehicles, buying and renovating homes and so much more.
It’s an odd celebration to be sure. But as long as there is aggression toward America in the world we will need a strong military to defend our values and freedoms. And it’s hard to beat the stealth and varied capabilities of submarines when it comes to designing a war machine. They have to be built somewhere and our corner of the world is the leader in this regard.