Diverging Fortunes for Two Maine Shipyards

Officials at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, are hiring hundreds of engineers, technicians, ship fitters and fabricators as they try to expand the facility’s workforce from 4,700 to 5,350 by the end of September.

The hiring spree comes as the shipyard attempts to alleviate a maintenance backlog for the Navy’s fleet of nuclear submarines stemming from recent budget constraints, reports the Press Herald.

Earlier this month, senior Navy officials highlighted the shipyard’s bright future. They cited the billions of dollars in work servicing attack submarines that Portsmouth has secured, as well as the pending confirmation of Adm. John Richardson as the new chief of naval operations as positive signs. Richardson, a career submariner who was confirmed on Aug. 5, had been director of the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program.

“Whenever you have somebody who truly understands your business, it’s a helpful thing,” Rear Adm. Craig Faller, the Navy’s chief of legislative affairs, told shipyard workers on Aug. 3. “He understands the challenges the shipyard faces and the opportunity it provides to the Navy,” Faller said.

In contrast to Portsmouth’s rising fortunes, Bath Iron Works, located 80 miles up Maine’s coast, may be forced to trim its workforce by 1,000 in the coming years unless it can slash costs and become more efficient.

The shipyard, owned by General Dynamics, currently is building three Zumwalt-class stealth destroyers costing $4 billion each, but that work is expected to decline as the Navy shrinks its fleet, according to the story. Bath Iron Works says if it fails to win a $10 billion contract to build 11 offshore patrol cutters for the Coast Guard, it will need to eliminate at least 1,000 jobs.  

The two shipyards’ different missions and competitive environments explain their contrasting outlooks, according to analysts.

“When Portsmouth survived the [BRAC] process nearly 10 years ago now, it emerged as the only — or at least predominant — East Coast facility for a set of vessels with a relatively long life expectancy,” said Charles Lawton, chief economist at Maine-based Planning Decisions. “[Bath Iron Works] is forever bidding on contracts for new vessels that may or may not be funded and that are always split between Bath and Mississippi shipyards. When that maneuvering doesn’t favor Bath, its work falls,” Lawton said.

Dan Cohen
Dan Cohen

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