Electric Boat asks Rhode Island leaders to ensure there are qualified people to fill jobs

IndustriesAssociated Press

The president of U.S. Navy contractor Electric Boat asked Rhode Island officials on Thursday to help ensure there are enough qualified state residents to fill thousands of jobs needed to build submarines in the coming years.

The Groton, Connecticut-based company employs about 12,800 people, mainly in Connecticut and Rhode Island. President Jeffrey Geiger discussed the company's business outlook at a hotel in Warwick.

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About 3,400 people work at the company's Quonset Point manufacturing facility in Rhode Island. Geiger said he'll need to nearly double the headcount to build a new class of ballistic-missile submarines. He said he is hiring 500 to 600 people in Rhode Island in 2015, 200 to 300 people per year for the next three years, then at least 1,000 people per year for three or four years to account for attrition and grow.

Geiger said it has been difficult to find people with basic science, math and mechanical skills to hire.

"We've been able to fill the jobs, but it has taken a lot of effort to do that," he said. "So I am concerned."

Gov. Gina Raimondo, who attended the briefing, said she's committed to fixing the problem. She said there needs to be closer collaboration between Electric Boat and local high schools and colleges so students have the right skills and the state needs to deregulate, create a proactive, customer-friendly government and make an aggressive commitment to outcome-oriented workforce training.

"We want to make Rhode Island a place where you want to be and stay and grow for decades to come," she said.

Rhode Island has struggled with a persistently high unemployment rate. It stood at 7.1 percent in November, well above the national rate of 5.8 percent. Raimondo said creating middle-class jobs, like the kind offered at Electric Boat, will turn the state's economy around.

U.S. Rep. David Cicilline, who also attended, said he would push for funding for workforce training programs.

Electric Boat, a subsidiary of General Dynamics Corp., is slated to build 17 more Virginia-class attack submarines. It is doing the design and development work for the 12 ballistic-missile submarines. The company did about $5 billion in sales last year, with the attack submarine program accounting for about 60 percent of the revenue, Geiger said. The support for submarines in Congress remains strong, he said.

In Rhode Island, Electric Boat has 83 suppliers, which have been awarded $43.5 million in the past five years, he added.