Shipbuilding is still part of 'economic DNA' of state

The Fire Department of the City of New York fireboat Fire Fighter II is seen in the dry dock at the Thames Shipyard and Drydock Co.

New London — U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney appeared Wednesday at Cross Sound Ferry to highlight the impact shipbuilding has on the region and to call for continued support of a law they say has a major impact on retaining jobs in the industry.

In conjunction with the Democratic politicians' visit to the city, the American Maritime Partnership released a study showing that Connecticut ranks fourth among all states in terms of private-sector jobs in the shipbuilding and repair industry. The state has 8,870 private-sector shipyard jobs, contributing $2.5 billion to Connecticut's economy, the report said.

"In addition to the thousands of shipyard jobs along the shoreline, there are hundreds of Connecticut companies that form a supply chain for parts, machines and services that are critical to shipbuilding," Courtney said in a statement.

Courtney got a bird's eye view of one of these businesses, Thames Shipyard & Repair Co. Inc., during a boat ride Wednesday on the Thames River. Adam Wronowski, shipyard vice president, said the boat-repair facility has been in a better financial position since receiving a 2010 grant from the U.S. Maritime Administration that paid more than $1.4 million to expand one of its drydocks.

The bigger drydock has allowed Thames Shipyard to take on larger projects, he said, such as a seven-year contract to maintain all of New York City's fire boats, including the Fire Fighter II currently under repair. The sprawling shipyard covers between 7 and 8 acres, Wronowski estimated, and the greater drydock capacity has helped keep business flowing in the summer months when shipyard work is typically slow.

"Having growth during an economy that's still trying to recover was exceptional for us," he said.

The shipyard, which employs about 100, competes in a niche area occupied by only a handful of shipyards in New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

Thames is one of the few shipyards capable of overhauling some of the larger ferries that ply their way across Northeast waterways, including one owned by the Martha's Vineyard Steamship Authority that is due to arrive here Sept. 17. The shipyard also regularly services tugboats, trawlers and other vessels.

"It's not a large field," Wronowski said. "It gets even smaller when you're talking about these larger, high-capacity ferries."

Courtney, before taking a ferry ride to Thames Shipyard's repair facilities aboard the Sea Jet I, pointed out that the 2nd Congressional District he represents is No. 2 among all U.S. districts nationally in terms of the raw number of jobs related to shipbuilding. Many of those jobs are related to the construction of nuclear submarines across the river at Electric Boat.

Blumenthal said the nearly century-old Jones Act, which requires ships operating in domestic waters to be built and owned by U.S. companies, has been a boon to the thriving local shipyard industry.

"Shipbuilding is part of Connecticut's economic DNA and is critical to job creation in Connecticut," Blumenthal said. "American ships ought to be used to transport American products."

Blumenthal acknowledged that he regularly is targeted by those who want the Jones Act repealed - most notably those in the petroleum industry who would like to shave costs now that more domestic energy production may be going overseas.

But he vowed to stand resolute in supporting the industry considering American companies' difficulty in competing against overseas firms that are protected by subsidies.

"These are protections, not protectionism," he said.

l.howard@theday.com
Twitter: @KingstonLeeHow

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, gets a view from the water of activities at the Thames Shipyard and Drydock Co. with company vice president Adam Wronowski, left, on Wednesday.
U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, gets a view from the water of activities at the Thames Shipyard and Drydock Co. with company vice president Adam Wronowski, left, on Wednesday.

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