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    Wednesday, April 17, 2024

    At 'matchmaking' event, suppliers seek to get in on submarine boom

    Groton — Facing a 250 percent increase in its workload over the next 20 years as the demand for submarines grows, Electric Boat is seeking to triple the size of its supply base in the next three years alone.

    While the company has created a team internally to identify and develop new suppliers, it also is relying on outside help — such as events like the daylong conference held Wednesday at the Mystic Marriott, which attracted more than 250 companies from 11 states.

    The conference, hosted by the Southeastern Connecticut Enterprise Region, better known as SeCTer, and the Procurement Technical Assistance Centers of New England, was billed as a “matchmaking event” to help companies connect with representatives from EB and its parent company, General Dynamics, to learn what they are looking for in suppliers. Companies also could partake in sessions on marketing and how to defend themselves against cyberthreats.

    Many of the companies in attendance are current EB suppliers, and, in some cases, are looking to take on more work, or maintain the work they have. But some companies have never bid on work at EB before, such as DICIN Electric, an electrical contractor based in Waterford.

    Cindy Hersom, president of the company, said she was impressed by the turnout and the stakeholders in attendance. She took advantage of the one-on-one sessions with EB procurement officials.

    “It was a very promising opportunity to at least be put in front of the people who know about the contracts,” Hersom said.

    She said she made some phone calls a couple years ago seeking to do business with EB but “it wasn’t very successful.”

    As Russia and China beef up and make advancements to their undersea fleets, and increasingly stake maritime claims, the U.S. is turning to its submarine fleet to keep them in check.

    As a result, Congress in recent years has approved more money for submarine programs. That’s kept EB busy, steadily building Virginia-class attack submarines, and the company soon will be building 12 new ballistic-missile submarines

    The increase in funding by Congress has been fueled by a “massive change in perception in the value of submarines to our national security strategy,” said U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District.

    In the past 12 years, federal funding for submarine programs has increased by about $8 billion. In 2007, submarines made up 26 percent of the Navy’s overall shipbuilding budget. The Navy is requesting $11.6 billion for submarines in fiscal year 2020. That’s more than its total shipbuilding budget in 2007 and would make up 49 percent of the $23.78 billion the service is requesting for its shipbuilding budget in fiscal year 2020.

    The funding is part of “a generational, long-term strategic commitment” that will continue for 30 years, Courtney said. The challenge, he said, is making sure the supply chain can meet the demand, indicating that decisions will need to be made around hiring, workforce development and capital expenditures, among others.

    T. Blair Decker, vice president of supply chain, materials and strategic sourcing at EB, said quality and safety are the top qualifications the company is looking for in potential suppliers. He said suppliers must be willing to make the upfront investments to ready themselves for the level of work required, which is more than “any one or any 100 suppliers can handle.”

    EB has more than 3,000 suppliers across the country with more than $16 billion in contracts. In Connecticut, the company has more than 440 suppliers and has spent more than $514 million with these suppliers over the past five years.

    The company is looking all over the country for suppliers — on Wednesday officials also attended a supplier event in Johnstown, Pa. — but does prefer those that are in close proximity to its Groton headquarters for logistical reasons. EB recently was awarded a $497 million contract to expand and develop its supply base.

    Suppliers are facing the same workforce challenges as EB, Decker said. Historically, employees spent years working on the “deck plates” before moving into a supervisory role. Now, with about 50 percent of EB’s workforce being between the ages of 22 and 37, employees are becoming supervisors after two to five years on the job, Decker said. That requires a “change in thinking” as far as “how we onboard and train, where we get workers from and ensuring you can get them to proficiency both from a work perspective and supervision perspective,” he said.

    j.bergman@theday.com

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