EB president predicts 'pretty stable' employment over next few years

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Groton — While the outlook for Electric Boat continues to be positive, it will be a challenge over the next couple of years to sustain the workforce, now at 17,050 employees, until construction starts on a new class of ballistic missile submarines, the president of the company said Monday.

Jeff Geiger, in giving his annual company update to a room full of local and state officials at the Mystic Marriott, said employment at EB will be "pretty stable" over the next three to four years, then hiring will ramp up again with the workforce likely exceeding 20,000 employees in the mid-2020s. Geiger said the company is forecasting about 4 percent revenue growth over the next two years.

The company expects to hire 1,400 employees this year compared to the 2,241 people hired in 2018. Of the new hires expected this year, about 900 of the jobs will be in Connecticut.

EB is getting ready to complete the largest submarine repair job in its history, on the USS Montpelier. When that job is complete, which is expected to happen early this year, there will be "a reduction in the necessary number of resources," Geiger said. More than 700 people worked on the Montpelier at its peak.

The company is working with the Navy to keep the workforce stable. One way to do that is through submarine repair work. Geiger said he expects to hear soon about an opportunity for EB to participate in another one of these major overhaul jobs, which will be larger than Montpelier's. That will help significantly with maintaining the workforce.

"As we continue pursuing other work, I've got good confidence that we're going to be able to fill that in, and continue to build on the workforce we have today," Geiger said.

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who attended Monday's briefing, both have pushed for more submarine work to go to the private yards over the public yards, which are backed up.

Opportunities for growth are ripe for potential suppliers in and around Connecticut. EB expects to triple the size of its supply base in the next three years, and is "highly encouraging" the development of local suppliers, because the "closer the supplier is to us, the better," Geiger said. Today, the company has 3,500 suppliers, and about 600 are located in Connecticut or Rhode Island.

Once construction starts on a new class of ballistic missile submarines, known as the Columbia program, there will essentially be a doubling on the Groton waterfront, Geiger said, as those submarines are built at the same time as the Virginia-class attack submarines currently being built.

EB and Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia have built 17 Virginia-class attack submarines and delivered them to the Navy under a teaming arrangement. Another 11 are under contract. Over the next 20 years, it's estimated that 29 more Virginia-class submarines will be built, Geiger said.

The company is moving forward with plans to spend $850 million to improve and expand its Groton shipyard. The majority of the expansion is happening in the south end of the shipyard, where a new facility will be built to assemble the Columbia submarines. EB is in the permitting process now. The partial government shutdown is slowing down that process, Geiger said after his briefing, because while the company is going through the permitting process with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, feedback is required from the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Since 2011, EB has hired nearly 14,000 employees. This is the first time the company has surpassed 17,000 employees since 1992. About 12,000 of the employees work in Connecticut.

Geiger credited the manufacturing pipeline program created several years ago by the Eastern Connecticut Workforce Investment Board in partnership with community colleges and others, with helping to train employees for jobs at EB. The company is investing more than $50 million a year in training, Geiger said, and also has helped shape the manufacturing pipeline program, including giving input on curriculum.

So far, 1,265 trainees have been placed in jobs, 1,019 of them at EB's facilities in Connecticut. A similar program in Rhode Island has resulted in 1,301 EB hires in that state.

John Beauregard, president of EWIB, said under the Lamont administration, the plan is to expand the program statewide, and to get high schools involved.

Gov. Ned Lamont, less than one week on the job, said the state's responsibility is "to make sure you have the best trained, best educated, most inventive workforce in the world. ... That's my number one obligation for you going forward."

"Let us think about what we (can) do to make sure that the best and the brightest not only are here, but stay here, and can afford to stay here, and outside of job opportunities, that they have the housing, and the infrastructure, the transportation they need," Lamont said. "That's what a state does working together with a private business."

Geiger pointed out the significant shift in the demographics of the workforce. In 2013, Baby Boomers, people age 54 to 72, made up 47 percent of the workforce. Today they make up about 26 percent. Millennials, those age 22 to 37, make up 51 percent of EB's workforce today compared to 30 percent five years ago. The percentage of those age 38 to 53, or Gen X, has remained steady around 20 percent.

Another statistic that's demonstrative of the generational shift, Geiger said, is that more than 275 new babies were born to EB parents in the past year.

"That suggests some demands on our communities that we're also going to have to take a hard look at it. What it means for housing, schools, transportation," he said.

j.bergman@theday.com

Editor's Note: Identification of the submarine hull for PCU Oregon corrected in the photo caption.

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