It’s a strange and wonderful time at Electric Boat. While most of the American defense sector contracts under federal budget cuts, the Groton, Conn.-based submarine builder is starting its largest expansion in a generation. At the company’s North Kingstown plant, Electric Boat is scaling up from 2,500 workers to potentially twice that number over the next eight years to develop the nation’s next ballistic-missile submarine. After years of cutbacks at Electric Boat, President Kevin J. Poitras is drawing on his 40 years of experience, which included the submarine arms race against the Soviet Union, to manage this new growth period.
PBN: Since you took over last year, have you introduced any new strategies at Electric Boat or are you continuing the course the company has been on?
POITRAS: The management of EB, because of the nature of the work, I would call it seamless. But we are coming out of a very low-rate production period where we came down to a low point in construction at both Groton and Quonset Point in 2005. The Virginia-class submarine was in design in the early 1990s and the lead ship started construction in 1998 for delivery in 2004. When you got to 2000, the Navy did not start another design. The shipyard went five years in the late 1990s without delivering a ship. We went from 28,000 people at Electric Boat to 7,000 or 8,000 people. Quonset Point went from 3,000 or 4,000 down to less than 1,000. Our whole company contracted. So the new direction is we are getting into two submarines-a-year production rate. And because we have started the Ohio-class replacement design in 2010, we have been able to build the engineering workforce back up. We have hired 4,500 people since 2008 and have a little less than 12,000 total.
PBN: So while most other defense contractors are cutting way back, you are scaling way up. What is that like?