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Face the Facts: Electric Boat to Build Australia's First Nuclear Powered Submarines

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Rep. Joe Courtney (D-2nd District) explains how Electric Boat in Groton will be involved in a new international deal to build Australia’s first nuclear powered submarines, and the efforts to train and recruit thousands of people to do the work.

Mike Hydeck: Well, it seems like we may have yet another boost to the defense industry coming to Connecticut if President Biden gets his way. He made a stop at a sub base in San Diego this week to show his support for more defense spending including a deal for more submarines. Joining me now is Congressman Joe Courtney. He was with the President in California. He's the ranking member of the House Seapower Subcommittee and the second highest ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee. Congressman, welcome back to Face the Facts.

Joe Courtney: Hi, Mike, good to hear from you.

Mike Hydeck: So with the promise of more than $500 million for submarine production in his 2024 fiscal year budget proposal, it's clear that President Biden is committed to the effort. But is Congress committed, in your view? This comes after $700 million in his last budget. Do you think this will get bipartisan support?

Joe Courtney: I do. And again, what those numbers that you're referring to are really aimed at industrial base. There's obviously another huge request for procurement to actually buy, continue to buy more submarines. But as you know, and we've talked about this before, we're in a moment right now where we're basically trying to almost recapture, reindustrialize the submarine industrial force, given the demand signal that's coming from the US Navy and Congress. And now, because of the AUKUS agreement, the US, Australia, UK submarine agreement, which is helping Australia basically recapitalize its own submarine fleet with nuclear powered submarines. That's a big jump for them in terms of the technologies that's involved with that. Again, that's going to add even more demand and more work for our area because the general contractor for the Virginia class submarine program, which is the subs that were, you know, basically announced on Monday in San Diego, the general contractor is Electric Boat right here in Groton, Connecticut.

Mike Hydeck: So part of that last investment was about getting more people trained to produce the submarines. As you say, Electric Boat is already advertising. They advertised in the Super Bowl and other areas to get workers. I mean, when's the last time Electric Boat has put commercials on TV saying, "Please come and work for us?" Are we gonna have enough workers to fill these jobs? We can't fill it right now. We're getting more because the AUKUS deal is more submarines too, right?

Joe Courtney: Right. So if you look at last year, you know, calendar year 2022, EB hired just shy of 4,000 new people. The projection for this year is 5,750. So, again, you know, all of the outreach that's been going on, including the Super Bowl ads, I think it's just going to continue apace. You know, people should know every Wednesday they have Walk in Wednesday from 10 a.m. to noon, where people can show up with no appointment to inquire about the possibility of being taken on. They've had job fairs on Saturdays to accommodate those types of opportunities. And there's, you know, again, job fairs, there's outreach by the community colleges. Again, this is definitely all hands on deck in terms of trying to add those jobs. I'm actually bullish about the fact that, you know, between those aggressive outreach, but also the increase in slots for pre apprenticeship training, which is that sort of first step of skills that you need to actually get in the yard, particularly in the metal trades area, that we are actually going to meet these, these targets. And again, this is for both Groton, Connecticut and Quonset Point, Rhode Island.

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Mike Hydeck: My question on that also is, is it time? Can we use some of this money to extend the manufacturing pipeline? Right now, I believe it's really focused in the southeastern part of the state. There are young people in Bridgeport that could use these jobs. They are young people in Hartford that can use these jobs. Yes, we're reaching out from the community college standpoint. But you can get to these kids in high school in middle school through the pipeline, right?

Joe Courtney: Correct. There's the YMPI, the Youth Manufacturing Pipeline, which, as you alluded, you know, basically goes younger, and actually outside of the even the tech schools to comprehensive high schools to try and connect younger people, secondary education aged kids, to these job opportunities. And your point about spreading out geographically in the state of Connecticut, that's exactly what's happening right now is that the workforce boards in New Haven area, Hartford area, are also connecting to the curriculum that really are very much focused in terms of the shipyard. So again, I think, you know, we've got to think bigger, and we've got to think more aggressively. But given the fact that these are really life changing opportunities, they're not just jobs, honestly, they're careers. You know, I think that, you know, this is really for real and it's going to be going on for decades, particularly with the new Australian agreement, I think really is going to resonate, and we're gonna see bigger numbers. The top line right now at EB for both Groton and Quonset Point combined is about 19,500. If you go back historically, back into the 80s and early 90s, their top line was even surpassed that, it was more than that. 25,000.

Mike Hydeck: We need that many workers, when you say top line, right? that's what you mean?

Joe Courtney: Correct. That's the top line of employees. And again, that's really, I think, with a smaller population in the state of Connecticut and the state of Rhode Island. So, you know, I think, again, once we really get our education institutions and our job training programs aligned with the skill set that we need to identify, I think we're really going to see people really step up and take advantage of it.

Mike Hydeck: Last question, I only have about 30 seconds, I'll try to make a quick. The chip shortage, a major problem when it comes to defense, that's been announced. Is that going to hold any of these projects back in your mind?

Joe Courtney: I don't think so. Again, the supply chain into the submarine force has always been, you know, much more made in America than frankly, you know, cars or other chip users. So, you know, the content of supply chain components, which include ships. Again, I actually think that's already been sort of well established in terms of the submarine construction process.

Mike Hydeck: Okay, Congressman Courtney, I have to leave it there. I could talk to you all day on this. I appreciate your time and joining us on Face the Facts.

Joe Courtney: Great, thanks, Mike.

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