Electric Boat’s ‘Once-in-a-Generation Expansion’
General Dynamics Electric Boat—the largest submarine builder in the United States and the largest employer in Connecticut and Rhode Island—is growing rapidly.
“We are in the midst of a once-in-a-generation expansion,” Electric Boat president Kevin Graney said at CBIA’s Jan. 21 Economic Summit + Outlook. “And frankly, it may be the biggest in our history.”
Graney walked through the Groton-based submarine manufacturer’s four major lines of businesses, taking time to explain the company’s efforts to provide an inclusive work environment and address the workforce shortage.
The “bread and butter” of Electric Boat is the Virginia-class design and construction, a model which has been built since 1977 and focuses on stealth, firepower, and endurance.
Graney said the USS Oregon and USS Montana were on the brink of being finished, with another dozen submarines in production.
In addition, the Columbia-class has become an increasingly valuable submarine for Electric Boat. This model is a ballistic missile submarine that will succeed the Ohio-class and be operational for the next 60 years.
Additional Business Lines
Beyond the manufacturing of new submarines, Graney also highlighted the company’s maintenance and modernization operations.
The USS Hartford, for example, is undergoing a “smart start” that will transition into a “significant engineering overhaul” that will keep the ship in Groton for the next three to four years.
The USS Nautilus—the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine, which marked the anniversary of its 1954 launch the day of the conference—will undergo paint and refurbishment to continue modeling and educating people at the Submarine Force Museum in Groton.
The final major line of business is engineering and design work carried out by up to 5,000 employees in New London. These employees are working on projects such as fleet support and concept and technology development.
All of these lines of business come together to make Electric Boat a formidable force in the country’s naval capabilities, and sends a message to adversaries of “more capable submarines for our war fighters and our sailors,” Graney said.
Despite Electric Boat’s addition of more than 2,500 employees last year, Graney said “safety will continue to be our number one priority.”
Even while hiring thousands of people, the company reported a record-low number of OSHA reportable and lost work day rates.
“Our safety and performance is the best in our history,” Graney said.
Graney said the company currently has an 86% employee COVID-19 vaccination rate without implementing a vaccine mandate.
Had there been a mandate, he said a portion of the workforce would have resigned “that we couldn’t afford to lose.”
Graney said Electric Boat’s biggest challenge moving forward is one that businesses across the state and the country have been facing: hiring.
A variety of reasons have contributed to the hiring difficulties, including temporarily closed workforce pipelines, retirements, and resignations.
“Simply put, it’s getting harder to hire and retain employees,” Graney said.
CBIA’s annual Survey of Connecticut Businesses reported 80% of business leaders having difficulty finding and retaining workers, and over one-third (35%) of businesses blame a lack of skilled job applicants as the main growth obstacle.
Graney said the manufacturer has programs “to help underemployed adults transition to Electric Boat.”
In addition, the company has programs in schools from elementary to high school to help train the next generation of ship builders.
Outreach, Workforce Development
“2033 is projected to be one of our peak years of hiring,” Graney said, “and we are in the run up to 2033 starting now.”
“Many of the people that we hire that year will just be graduating from high school, and some of them that will end up joining our workforce eventually aren’t even born yet.
“So getting out there and educating people about the opportunities here at Electric Boat is incredibly important to us.”
Graney also highlighted the company’s current hiring efforts. Of the 2,500 people hired in 2021, half were Connecticut-based.
Electric Boat plans on hiring up to 400 employees this year just to work on the USS Hartford.
The company is also committed to diversity, with an 11% increase in its minority workforce and a 19% increase in Hispanic workers, while women now make up 16% of senior leadership.
Graney summarized Electric Boat’s hiring philosophy as “introducing our careers to those who don’t yet know they want to be ship builders.”
Part of that effort is the company’s Boat for Women program.
“It’s an opportunity to expose women who are thinking about a job at Electric Boat to the trades, and to try and knock down some of the perceived barriers that have traditionally existed in our business,” Graney said.
The company also has Boat for Veterans, a similar program aimed at hiring veterans.
Supply Chain Impact
Electric Boat’s growth has a major impact on the state’s economy. Over the past five years, Graney the manufacturer has awarded more than $1.1 billion in contracts to the 359 companies in its Connecticut supply chain.
“We’ve got an additional $130 million in fiscal 2021 to provide seed money in the industrial base to help develop our supply chain,” Graney said.
“The money is making a difference and over 90% of the industrial base right now is prepared to meet our current and future demand.
“The remaining 10% is where we’re spending a lot of time and effort making sure that they are preparing and getting ready to support the work we have.
“That money is coming home to Connecticut and we will continue being good stewards to make sure the industrial base is keeping up with demand.”
Graney also emphasized Electric Boat’s strategic sourcing initiative, designed to bring new companies into its supply chain.
Graney closed his remarks on a positive note for both the company and the state.
“We’ve got a very robust future,” he said. “We are heading off into a new dawn.
“I wish everyone could see what I see on those boats: eye-watering technology, sailors who are completely dedicated and are masters of submarine warfare, and it’s EB people who are fiercely proud of what we build.
“And where else would you rather be than right here and right now in the great state of Connecticut, building submarines and having a significant impact on our regional economy.”
The 2022 Economic Summit + Outlook was made possible through the generous support of Webster Bank.
EXPLORE BY CATEGORY
Stay Connected with CBIA News Digests
The latest news and information delivered directly to your inbox.