Published August 26. 2013 6:00PM Updated August 26. 2013 10:14PM
Norwich — U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said Monday that the Navy’s decision to scrap repair work on two nuclear submarines is only a “temporary blip” as the shipyard gears up for the manufacture of new a class of missile-firing subs.
His comments came as he toured a local metal-fabrication plant with ties to Electric Boat.
EB expects to lay off up to 500 shipyard employees over the next few months, according to the union that represents the workers. The layoffs were largely related to the federal government’s decision to forgo repairs on the badly damaged USS Miami and to have the submarine USS Springfield repaired by workers from the Portsmouth Navy Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, who will do the work at the Naval Submarine Base in Groton.
Blumenthal, D-Conn., visited Collins & Jewell Co. in the Norwich Industrial Park to call attention to what he termed the “ripple effect” of Navy decisions to take work from EB. While EB gets most of the attention when lost opportunities result in layoffs, he said, many small manufacturers such as Collins & Jewell also feel the effects.
“EB’s success is our success,” said Christopher Jewell, chief financial officer of the third-generation company that started as a Mystic boiler manufacturer in 1946.
Jewell and Chief Operating Officer Brian Dudek said after the tour and press conference that they were blindsided by the Navy’s decision to forgo an estimated $700 million in repair work on the USS Miami. The company, which is expecting to move into new custom-made headquarters in Bozrah by February, counts on EB for about 40 percent of its business.
But Jewell added that while defense work helped Collins & Jewell through the recessionary period of 2008-09, the company has recovered in the past two years, with private industries ranging from oil-exploration firms to roofing manufacturers starting to take on major projects.
The company, which employed 43 a couple years ago, has grown to 53 today, and Jewell said he could envision employment in the mid-60s in the near future.
The new manufacturing plant will have more than 30,000 square feet of space and 35-foot ceilings. It will combine office, engineering and manufacturing space under one roof.
“We’re more than doubling what our current shop has,” Jewell said.
The Navy’s decision to scrap sub repairs, if revealed earlier, would have had no impact on the company’s decision to build a new headquarters building, Jewell said. The company needs to grow, he said, and it had maxed out its 16,000 square feet of manufacturing space that forced some employees into a nearby trailer.
“These companies have a resilience,” Blumenthal said. “They are able to cope with cutbacks in federal funding and stay resilient and strong.”
But Blumenthal warned that a delay in the manufacturing schedule for the $2.7 billion Virginia-class attack submarines or in the rollout of the new class of ballistic missile-firing subs would be detrimental to the nation. Underwater warfare is where the United States has “unchallengeable superiority,” he said, and submarine building should continue on track to provide America the best defense possible.
EB and Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia jointly build two attack submarines each year.
Jewell said his company fabricates the complicated staging areas EB employees use to build modern submarines, and it helps maintain the shipyard’s facilities. He added that employees are excited about the possibility of working on steel fabrications to support construction of the ballistic-missile subs and he hopes the rollout of a new design stays on schedule.
“That really would help our business considerably going forward,” he said.