The submarine capital of the world will soon welcome thousands of new Connecticut workers to help manufacture submarines for the United States Navy.
Electric Boat, a subsidiary of General Dynamics and the Navy’s primary submarine contractor, will hire 2,000 new employees by the end of the year, 1,350 of whom will be stationed in Groton, Connecticut — a town 45 minutes east of New Haven with a population of roughly 40,000.
The labor increase is part of an ongoing five- to 10-year wave of 4,000 expected Electric Boat hires between its facilities in North Kingstown, Rhode Island, and Groton, which currently has 8,300 employees. This jolt in submarine production stems from the Navy’s top priority program: to replace its 14 Trident ballistic missile submarines, also known as SSBNs, with 12 Columbia-class SSBNs.
“Groton is going to do the bulk of the work,” said Owen Coté, associate director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Security Studies Program.
As the number of jobs soar, Groton and North Kingstown will receive roughly 75 percent and 25 percent of the positions, respectively, said Paige Bronk, Groton’s economic and community development manager. The incoming workforce will be made up of mostly skilled labor along with positions in design, engineering and management.
Though Groton is receiving these jobs, many other Connecticut residents may find work at Electric Boat, given that 80 percent of Groton-based jobs are held by commuters, Bronk said. New Haven County commuters constitute 3 percent of the Groton workforce, according to the town’s June 2016 Economic and Market Trends Analysis.
Like New Haven and many cities in the United States with an increasing number of millennials taking over jobs, Bronk said Groton hopes to become more urbanized in the near future and the town is currently focused on mixed-use development. But with 40,000 residents in Groton, the two-story complex is much sparser than New Haven apartments.
For businesses in the community, Electric Boat’s future employee surge brings much-needed optimism.
“It’s going to make us a lot busier because a lot of [Electric Boat] employees already come here,” said Chester’s Barbecue cashier Dakota Shepherd.
Several miles from Chester’s Barbecue and just a block from the Electric Boat facility stands Pizza Today — a 15-year-old pizzeria owned by Martha Gkountouva, who has seen the fluctuating workforce at Electric Boat and Pfizer, which currently employees 3,400 people in Groton, send ripples through the local economy.
In the past decade, Electric Boat laid off much of its workforce after it was unable to receive government-contracted work and a large portion of Pfizer’s operation was relocated to Massachusetts, Gkountouva said.
She added that during this period some restaurants shut down or frequently alternated ownership. Other restaurants laid off staff. At Pizza Today, Gkountouva reduced some employees’ hours and picked up the workload alongside her husband, she said.
Gkountouva expressed happiness about Electric Boat jobs coming to Groton.
“I think we’ll be able to handle it,” she said. “But if I can’t, I’ll hire more people.”
Other external factors could potentially add even more jobs at Electric Boat. As China and Russia increase their naval fleets, President-elect Donald Trump advocates for a stronger Navy and discussion on the defense bill begins, Coté said Groton may receive more jobs than currently anticipated.
The Navy recently increased production of attack submarines from one annually to two annually, and politicians like Trump, as well as Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., hope to see the production go to three annually, Coté said. If Congress expands the Navy, he added that this increase in attack submarines would be the first naval item on the defense budget.
Though these potential jobs would add even more workers to the local economy, it is unlikely Groton will choose to rely on it them. Instead, the city’s June 2016 Economic and Market Trends Analysis concluded that the city should diversify its economy.
Groton’s “Big Three” — which consists of the U.S. Navy Submarine Base with 10,150 employees, Electric Boat and Pfizer — make up nearly 60 percent of Groton jobs, the analysis said.
As a result, the analysis said “the lack of diversity in the local economy is a concerning situation because, as the town has experienced in the past, when one of these Big Three employers ramps up or down, a significant portion of the local economy is affected,” such as when Pfizer relocates or Electric Boat decreases and increases submarine production. This has been exemplified when Pfizer relocated and Electric Boat increased and decreased submarine production.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office estimated the total cost of the 12 Columbia-class SSBNs, which are the primary reasons for the rise in Electric Boat jobs, at $97 billion.