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    Thursday, April 18, 2024

    Groton preparing for growth at Electric Boat

    Editor’s note: This is the first in an occasional series about how the region is prepared for a tremendous period of growth at Electric Boat.

    People cross Thames Street and walk up Smith Street while heading to their vehicles after leaving the yard Tuesday, March 28, 2023, during the shift change at Electric Boat in Groton. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    The new South Yard Assembly Building Wednesday, March 29, 2023, at Electric Boat in Groton. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    People leave the shipyard Tuesday, March 28, 2023, during the shift change at Electric Boat in Groton. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    People from Electric Boat pick up or wait to place their lunch orders Friday, March 31, 2023, from Munchies, was one of the food trucks lined up along Eastern Point Road in Groton. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Thames River Magnet School fifth graders, from left, Liam Tatum, Carlee Robbins, Preston Godfrey and Kylie Moscol build a boat Thursday, March 30, 2023, using canned cheese to weld the crackers together. Students also tried welding with a virtual welder. The STEM based project Thursday was the first of six lessons in Electric Boat's “Boat for Kids” program that will introduce students to potential careers in the trades. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Groton ― As Electric Boat ramps up hiring, Groton is looking at its plans to handle traffic and parking and is making sure its schools are ready.

    The town known as the Submarine Capital of the World is also attracting interest from developers.

    Groton has been working to increase its housing supply, and with the news of the increased hiring, is receiving more inquiries from developers looking for opportunities to match Electric Boat’s housing needs, said Paige Bronk, economic and community development manager for the Town of Groton.

    Development officials have spent years trying to attract investors to Groton, and the news of Electric Boat’s plans to boost hiring has increased the attention and focus, he said.

    Currently, about 8,900 people work at the Groton plant and Electric Boat is looking to add 1,500 new employees at the shipyard over the next two to three years, according to Electric Boat Spokesperson Daniel McFadden.

    Electric Boat announced last month that it is expecting the number of employees in Rhode Island and Connecticut to reach its peak at 22,000 in 2033, The Day reported.

    The new employees will be primarily in the skilled trades involved in building submarines, such as welders, pipe fitters, carpenters, and machinists, as well as some employees working in engineering.

    Bronk said that years ago when he was outside the area, he’d have to explain to people where Groton is, even sometimes when he was within the state of Connecticut.

    “These days I’m being contacted by developers far from Connecticut, and Groton is being discussed because of the growth story,” he said.

    Housing and development

    McFadden said Electric Boat is not looking to build housing, but is happy to provide developers with information about EB’s hiring trends and expectations ― and what kind of housing would be most attractive to future employees ― to help them make decisions on whether to invest in Groton.

    The City of Groton, where Electric Boat is located, is a subdivision of the Town of Groton. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 38,456 people live in the Town of Groton, of that number 9,326 live within the city.

    McFadden said he expects future employees will be interested in a mix of all housing types in Groton and throughout the region.

    Town Manager John Burt said there is not enough housing in New London County to accommodate the growth.

    “The Town has also been working towards an increase in its own housing stock over the last few years,” he said. “We hope to see some of those efforts come to fruition soon.”

    Jon Reiner, the town’s director of planning and development services, said there is a need for more housing in Groton across all price points.

    Groton’s affordable housing study pointed to the need for more low to moderate income housing, he said.

    A town-wide market study looking at housing needs cited that Groton will need 3,000 to 5,000 new housing units overall by 2030 to meet its current demand. That does not take into account the town’s goal of trying to get more people who work in Groton to live in Groton, he said.

    Currently, about 82% of the people who work in Groton are commuters, according to Bronk and Reiner.

    Bronk said that while Electric Boat is a major variable, the study also pointed to a demand from an older population, such as “empty nesters” who want to downsize and have less maintenance.

    With the ability to work remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, more people also moved to areas along the coast like Groton, Reiner said.

    Bronk said that most of Groton’s housing stock is quite old, and units have not been added to keep up with the demand.

    Reiner said there has been some housing built ― such as Pleasant Valley Apartments, with more than 140 units, and some smaller developments ― but nothing major since the 2010 time frame.

    Bellsite Development LLC. of Manchester is proposing 65 apartments at the town-owned former Colonel Ledyard School, within walking distance of Electric Boat.

    Overall, the town is getting inquiries from developers about town-owned properties, such as the former Groton Heights School, said Reiner. A town committee currently is working on recommendations for how the town decides on the use of its vacant properties.

    Traffic, parking

    The city is looking at the impact of parking and traffic.

    City of Groton Mayor Keith Hedrick said Electric Boat employees trickle into work in the morning, but during the afternoon shift change, the roads are congested for a half hour to an hour.

    Hedrick said the news about Electric Boat’s growth is positive, but as soon as he heard about the number of additional employees, he started thinking about how to get them in and out of the city and where they will park.

    Electric Boat is actively looking at ways to address parking and is working with Groton on those efforts, said McFadden.

    In the interim, the company is managing the existing parking by making sure the people who report to work at the Groton shipyard are the employees that need to be there in person, McFadden said.

    If people are able to work at another site, work from home, or have a hybrid arrangement, that should be considered, and he added that a “silver lining” of the pandemic was that it showed that working from home is viable in the shipbuilding process.

    “That’s offered us some flexibility in how much parking we need and where we need it, but we recognize it’s an ongoing pressure and it won’t stop as we continue to grow the Groton plant over the next decade or so,” McFadden said.

    McFadden said Electric Boat offers a van ride-sharing program, which it encourages employees to take advantage of. The program also helps employees save money.

    The city and the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments worked on a parking management plan for the city that projected a parking deficit from the uptick in employees and offered potential solutions, according to a June 2022 presentation.

    Hedrick said he’ll be looking to ensure that within a half mile radius of Electric Boat there isn’t more parking taken up in residential neighborhoods. The city will be stepping up enforcement and probably making areas for residential parking only.

    “I have had the police department evaluate residential parking, and the expansion of residential parking, and we are prepared to increase enforcement as needed,” he said.

    Another challenge is increased traffic and concerns about people speeding in the afternoon as they leave the city, he said, so the city is going to need to increase the monitoring and enforcement of speeding.

    The Joint Land Use Study Implementation Committee, a working group that advances projects related to the naval base and municipal concerns, including parking in the city, is starting up again, according to Amanda Kennedy, executive director of the Council of Governments.

    Schools

    Electric Boat offers informational programs for high schools, middle schools and elementary schools across the region.

    Electric Boat’s goal is to deliver two Virginia-class submarines a year, in partnership with Newport News Shipbuilding, and one Columbia-class submarine, McFadden said.

    Given the longevity of the work EB is going to be doing, between the Virginia-class and Columbia-class submarines, it makes sense to get out to schools and introduce young people to manufacturing as a future career, McFadden said.

    “A kid in second grade could be delivering the final Columbia-class submarine,” he pointed out.

    Fitch High School students are being offered a program called Boat for Next Gen, which exposes seniors and juniors to six different trades, said McFadden. The trades include electrical, sheet metal, pipefitting, machining, ship fitting, and welding, said Chelsey Courtright, Pathways Program Coordinator at Fitch High School.

    The middle school has a Boat for Explorers program to train teachers to incorporate exposure to the trades into their curriculum and have EB and Navy guest speakers come into the classroom.

    At elementary schools Catherine Kolnaski STEAM Magnet School and Thames River Magnet School, there is a program called Boats for Kids with six different lessons that showcase trades.

    EB also is offering programs to interest women and veterans in the trades.

    Burt said EB’s expansion was a regular topic during construction of the new schools in Groton to ensure they could accommodate an increase in children.

    Groton Superintendent Susan Austin said that while the potential impacts on future enrollment are not yet known, the school district needs to be ready to take on the additional number of students.

    She said if Groton wants families of Electric Boat workers to come to Groton Public Schools, there needs to be affordable housing in Groton.

    A ‘generational opportunity’

    Electric Boat’s South Yard Assembly Building and support buildings will add to Groton’s grand list and are expected to impact budgets starting for Fiscal Year 2025, Hedrick said.

    In his budget proposal, Burt mentioned that “the Town does have a lot of potential construction likely to occur over the next few years with a prime example being Electric Boat but the resulting tax revenues will be stifled for several years due to the State granting them an Enterprise Zone designation." Enterprise Zones offer companies incentives, such as local property tax abatements for five years, according to the state.

    Electric Boat will be attracting new people to the region and Groton and hopes to help manage that process with Groton and the surrounding communities, McFadden said.

    He described it as a “generational opportunity” for Groton and the area.

    “This should be a good opportunity for Groton to attract and absorb residents to increase its tax base and shape growth in a very positive direction,” he added.

    k.drelich@theday.com

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