EB's workforce surpasses 16,000, a number not seen in nearly 25 years

Groton — Despite the uncertainty created by the federal government shutdown, "none of the markers would suggest that the support for submarines is going down," Electric Boat President Jeffrey Geiger told a crowd Monday morning at the Mystic Marriott.

Geiger was delivering the company's annual update to state and local officials and other community stakeholders, and he painted a rosy outlook for the submarine builder, the beneficiary of lucrative government contracts.

Last year, more than $7 billion in federal funding was spent on submarine programs. Though the budget for 2018 is still being worked out, the funding levels for submarines being debated are almost 5 percent higher than last year, Geiger said.

The company plans to hire 2,200 employees in 2018, including 500 in operations in Groton, another 500 in engineering and design and 200 in support. At Quonset Point in Rhode Island, where the company's submarine hull fabrication plant is located, 1,000 new hires are expected.

The "strong hiring" projection for 2018 and beyond "is a continuation of great economic news for our region and the entire state," U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, said in a statement. Courtney and U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., usually attend the meeting but were in Washington because of the shutdown.

In 2017, EB continued on its path of growth, hiring more than 3,000 employees. That brings the company's workforce to a total of 16,200 employees, a number not seen in nearly 25 years, Geiger said.

The majority of the company's employees work in Connecticut. About 4,100 work in Rhode Island, and another 500 in other locations around the country.

Thirteen Virginia-class attack submarines are under contract and have yet to be delivered to the Navy. Of those, 11 are under construction.

EB builds Virginia-class submarines with Newport News Shipbuilding under a unique partnership given the two companies are also competitors as the only two private shipyards that build nuclear-powered submarines for the U.S. Navy.

The submarines under contract are only a fraction of what EB expects to build going forward. Between ballistic missile and attack submarines, EB anticipates building 55 more subs in the next 20 years.

The design of the new Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine is more than 50 percent complete. The Navy plans to build 12 of these submarines to replace the current fleet of ballistic missile subs, which were built in the 1980s and 1990s. The workload involved in the Columbia submarines is about two-and-a-half times that of a Virginia submarine.

More than 3,000 designers and engineers, most of whom work in New London, are involved with the Columbia program. The design of the submarine will be more than 80 percent complete before the start of full-scale production in late 2020, Geiger said.

The Navy is planning to continue to procure two attack submarines per year through 2033, an increase from plans just last year, Geiger said. Previously, the Navy planned on dropping down to one attack submarine per year in the years when the Columbia submarines are being built.

"What we're seeing is increased support, increased demand, and the Navy's planning on increases to keep the procurement rate at two per year," Geiger said.

There's no shortage of people interested in working for EB. The company received almost 81,000 applications for the 3,000 jobs it hired for last year.

"Now, a lot of them aren't qualified," Geiger said, but noted it was a good sign the candidate pool was so big.

The company's biggest challenge in hiring is getting enough qualified workers to meet demand. It's a concern the Navy had years ago.

"There are still people in the Navy that express concern about that, but we're winning a lot of people over, not by a lot of fast talk but by showing numbers and evidence that these (workforce training) programs have been set up and that they're expanding to produce that capacity that is required to support our needs," Geiger said.

The company spent more than $40 million on employee training last year. Hands-on training involving simulated mock-ups that include real submarine parts have proved effective and need to be expanded, Geiger said. The company has restarted its apprentice programs for designers and tradespeople. Ninety people are involved in those programs, which combine classroom learning with on-the-job training.

Workforce training programs have also been created outside of the company, namely the manufacturing pipeline developed by the Eastern Workforce Investment Board and the state's technical schools and community colleges.

EB's growth is also expected to be felt by its supply base, which spans almost every state in the country. About 40 percent of the cost of a submarine is invested in the supply chain, according to Geiger. In Connecticut, there are 446 suppliers, and there's room for more, Geiger said, noting the company's supply base nationwide is not "particularly deep."

j.bergman@theday.com

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