General Dynamics Electric Boat: Full speed ahead on submarine work

WARWICK – General Dynamics Electric Boat plans to add between 1,000 and 1,500 jobs in Rhode Island and grow its local network of suppliers as the company builds the U.S. Navy’s next generation of nuclear-powered submarines – asserting United States military undersea dominance over competitors such as Russia and China, company President Jeffrey S. Geiger said Monday.

Speaking at the company’s annual legislative briefing, Geiger said General Dynamics Electric Boat plans to add 500 jobs this year alone at its Quonset Business Park facilities in North Kingstown.

That follows the addition of about 1,000 jobs last year, currently bringing its workforce there to about 4,500 employees, he said.

The company will grow that number to about 5,000 people by the end of this year, followed by another round of hiring beginning in 2023 that will increase its local workforce to between 5,500 and 6,000 by 2027 or 2028. The increased level of work at Quonset should continue through the 2030s into the 2040s.

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“The people who will be building these submarines are in the school system today,” Geiger said.

The 500 new Rhode Island jobs this year will be part of a total staffing increase of 1,400 at General Dynamics Electric Boat in 2019. That includes about 300 new jobs at the company’s facilities in Groton, Conn.

“We’re spending over $50 million a year on training,” Geiger said.

The company has been building Virginia-class submarines for the Navy and will continue to do so. Meanwhile, the company is in the design and engineering phase for new Columbia-class submarines, and it expects to start construction on those later this year. The company has plans to deliver 12 of the Columbia subs. Meanwhile, it has delivered 17 Virginia subs with plans for 11 more.

As a result, the company has begun about $700 million capital investments at Quonset to gear up for the work ahead and it expects to triple its expenditures on suppliers nationwide over the next three years. The company currently has about 143 suppliers in Rhode Island, he said.

At Quonset, the company builds modules for the submarines, which are then assembled in Connecticut. Most of the Quonset workers are welders, fabricators, machinists, electricians and those in other construction and manufacturing trades. Quonset’s current production rate of 14 modules a year eventually will increase to about 22 a year, Geiger said.

The company’s Quonset jobs pay an average of about $25 an hour, with an entry-level wage for someone without experience of about $15 an hour, but such workers eventually can earn more than $30 an hour after a few years on the job, said Sean Davies, the company’s vice president of operations.

In addition, Davies said, about 15 percent of the company’s Quonset jobs are salaried positions, often paying $70,000 a year or more.

General Dynamics Electric Boat’s employees in Rhode Island compose about a third of the company’s total workforce, most of which is in the Groton area of southeastern Connecticut. Nearly two-thirds of the company’s total workforce is in construction, while a third is in design and engineering.

The new jobs and the benefits for the local economy are important, said U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., but upgrading the nation’s defense is paramount.

Gov. Gina M. Raimondo said her administration is working with the company and the Navy “hand-in-glove to make Rhode Island prosper.” She added: “When I think of Electric Boat, I think of a partner. I also think of jobs.”

Scott Blake is a PBN staff writer. Email him at Blake@PBN.com.