"The thousands of jobs that go unfilled in manufacturing in the state today because of the lack of ability to get qualified human resources is a terrible shame," says Jeffrey Geiger, president of General Dynamics Electric Boat.

"It's really a call to marshal the various resources from across the community to change that picture, because it doesn't need to be so."

Electric Boat's Jeff Geiger
Growth surge: Electric Boat president Jeff Geiger speaks at CBIA's Connecticut Economic Update conference.

Addressing more than 300 business leaders April 20 at CBIA's Connecticut Economic Update 2018 conference, Geiger spoke of huge projected increases in defense spending that has EB and other defense contractors in the state ramping up recruiting and training efforts.

Connecticut has more than 1,000 defense contractors servicing over 32,000 unique contracts. The state is number two in country for per capita defense spending.

In Electric Boat's case, that demand is coming from the U.S. Navy in the form of orders for 42 Virginia class and 12 new Columbia class submarines to be delivered over the next 20 years.

"The way Connecticut is positioned—particularly from a manufacturing standpoint—in the defense industry puts the state at a terrific point and the start of a trajectory that I think can really do great things for the entire state," Geiger said.

Manufacturing Pipeline Initiative

But, he added, "If Connecticut loses out on the opportunity to grow the way it can and spur its economic activity the way it can as a result of increased defense spending…it would be a crying shame and a poor reflection on business and government leaders in the state."

Geiger, however, is optimistic that the job will get done, encouraged by the success EB is having with its Manufacturing Pipeline Initiative, a three-year pilot program designed to help the company recruit and train the talent needed for a massive increase in submarine production.

"Like any business, we need to be affordable and competitive," Geiger said. "We also need to develop our workforce and supply chain.

If Connecticut loses out on the opportunity to grow it would be a crying shame and a poor reflection on business and government leaders.
— Electric Boat's Jeff Geiger
"The labor supply exists in Connecticut, but it must be trained. We're not seeing enough skilled workers in the labor force."

The Groton-based shipbuilder is partnering with the Eastern Connecticut Workforce Investment Board and several academic institutions, including Three Rivers Community College, Quinebaug Valley Community College, and Ella T. Grasso Technical High School, to recruit candidates for skilled trades positions.

"The goal was to get 5,000 people registered into the program, and two years into it, we're almost at 6,000," Geiger said.

"This thing is going great guns. It's working very well."

Broader Scale

Geiger strongly believes the initiative could succeed on a broader scale, throughout the state.

"That's why I get particularly agitated hearing that manufacturing jobs can't be filled in the state," he added.

"I'm convinced this [program] could be an important ingredient to get those jobs filled. It just needs to be expanded. It absolutely can be replicated.

"Effective partnerships and real leadership and involvement of the business and public sector is necessary.

"If done right, you can produce a workforce development and training program that could meet the need for increased manufacturing in the state.

"It really offers a leg up over what other states are doing. But it requires investment and collaboration between the public and private sectors."

Dramatic Expansion

One reason Geiger is so confident is his belief that interest in manufacturing jobs in Connecticut is high.

"You hear sometimes that kids today aren't interested in this. That's not true," he said.

"We are overwhelmed with interest and applicants for these roles. There are people out there who want this work."

If done right, you can produce a workforce development program that could meet the need for increased manufacturing in the state.
— Electric Boat's Jeff Geiger
Geiger said the primary candidates for many Electric Boat job openings have a high school degree, with some community college advanced manufacturing experience.

"These are good, well-paying jobs," he said. "Some of the most advanced manufacturing work in the world is happening in Groton."

One of the largest employers in the region, EB currently employs 11,000 people in Connecticut and 5,000 in Rhode Island and other locations.

Multiplier Effect

Over the next two decades, Geiger projects those numbers to expand dramatically, with trade occupations at the Groton shipyard expected to double.

This year, Electric Boat is planning to hire more than 2,000 people, Geiger said.

Citing a study commissioned by the company to show the economic impact of its hiring, Geiger said that every 500 new jobs EB adds results in a $72 million earnings increase for those who are hired.

In addition, those 500 jobs generate another 500 jobs in the community and result in about $6.5 million more in state tax revenues.

Also part of EB's economic multiplier effect is its statewide network of more than 400 suppliers.

"We've spent over $600 million in the last five years with those suppliers," Geiger said.

"Those are the businesses that supply direct equipment that goes on the submarines.

"We'd love to have more Connecticut suppliers. We need more Connecticut suppliers."

'Not a One-Year Blip'

Geiger believes that demand for EB's products and for those of other Connecticut defense contractors is strong and growing.

"It's not a one-year blip," he told the crowd at the conference, which was sponsored by Chase Commercial Banking.

We'd love to have more Connecticut suppliers. We need more Connecticut suppliers.
— Electric Boat's Jeff Geiger
"Growth in manufacturing jobs and economic growth is occurring—clearly occurring in our neck of the woods—and continues to be on the horizon on a broader scale.

"The bottom line is it's a great opportunity for everyone to improve our communities and improve our state's economic position."