EB plans hundreds of new hires
Groton - Electric Boat President John P. Casey said Tuesday he expects to hire hundreds of employees this year and even more in the years ahead to work on a new class of submarines.
EB needs 300 more engineers, Casey said. The majority of the company's engineers and designers are working on a new ballistic-missile submarine to replace the Ohio-class submarines.
If that program and the Virginia-class submarine program stay on track, EB could have trouble finding enough people to fill all of the job openings in the 2020s, Casey said. About 2,000 people work in the trades in Groton, a figure that could double after construction begins on the ballistic-missile submarine in 2019.
Casey, who has led the company since 2003, said the employment outlook was the most positive of his tenure. The company's revenue topped $4 billion last year for the first time, a long sought goal.
But if there are significant cuts to the defense budget, Casey said, "all bets are off."
Legislators who attended EB's annual legislative breakfast meeting at the Mystic Marriott - many of whom were in the audience in previous years when layoffs were announced - said they came away from the meeting feeling cautiously optimistic.
U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, who fought to double the production rate of Virginia-class submarines, said the forecast reflected "all the hard work of the last four to five years."
"We're starting to see the payoff with job growth," Courtney, D-2nd District, said after the presentation.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal cautioned that while the outlook was encouraging, there are challenges ahead.
The Pentagon is seeking to cut at least $450 billion in spending over 10 years. Another $500 billion in automatic cuts, known as sequestration, could be ordered beginning in January 2013 due to the breakdown of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, unless lawmakers reach some sort of agreement before then.
Blumenthal, D-Conn., said the congressional delegation has to remain vigilant and make sure the "across-the-board slashing" doesn't affect EB.
A new defense strategy, unveiled this month, sets the priorities that will guide decision-makers as they cut the budget. Casey said he was confident that EB's products meet the military's priorities.
The fiscal 2012 budget allocated more than $1 billion for research and development on the ballistic-missile submarine. Casey said he expects a similar amount in the 2013 budget, along with close to $6 billion for the Virginia-class program.
EB is working on the design of a missile compartment to be used in both the Ohio replacement and the United Kingdom's Successor ballistic-missile submarine. The Navy also awarded EB the design contract to modify two older submarines to serve as moored training ships.
And, EB has finished the initial concept work and program plan for a module with missile tubes that could be added to the Virginia-class submarines to boost firepower, known as the Virginia Payload Module. Casey said EB could need even more engineers and designers if the Navy requests more detailed design work.
Kenneth DelaCruz, president of the Metal Trades Council, called the forecast "a breath of fresh air."
"The last few years, we have been under constant cutbacks and layoffs," DelaCruz said after the presentation.
EB notified about 40 trades workers on Monday that they will be laid off. The company employs about 11,000 people.
Many employees in the trades have kept their jobs this past year by traveling to work on projects at the naval shipyards, DelaCruz said, but that's "a tough way to live." The number of employees working on projects elsewhere peaked at 420 last year and now stands at 281.
About 150 employees in the trades at EB will be laid off this year, mainly due to a light workload for submarine maintenance and modernization work in the first half of the year, Casey said.
Later in the year, Casey said, the company could bring these employees back and potentially hire "a couple hundred" people to work on the 11th Virginia-class submarine and the submarines arriving at the shipyard for maintenance.
State Sen. Andrew Maynard said he couldn't be happier about the hiring.
"This is about as good of news as we have ever received," Maynard, D-Stonington, said. "I think we've got to start to piece back full employment, job by job. This is very good news as long as the sequestration doesn't occur, and I look forward to a steady increase in employment."
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