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Marinette Marine celebrates long wait for more Navy ships

It’s been years of work and waiting, but for Marinette Marine Corp. employees, a Navy decision this week to buy 20 littoral combat ships from two contractors is a welcome relief. Congressional approval for the plan — put forth midweek — could come in the next six weeks, allowing the service to purchase different ship designs from Lockheed Martin and Austal USA/General Dynamics. The Lockheed Martin design is being built at Marinette Marine.

Until this week it appeared the Navy would choose one contractor for 10 ships.

“There’s going to be work for the next five to 10 years for people here,” said Steve Gromala, lead electrician on the LCS program at Marinette Marine. “People can think about doing home improvements, buying a new vehicle and making sure they can put aside money for their children’s education.”

The Navy has said it could buy 55 or more of these ships over the next few decades.

This order of 10 ships for Marinette Marine is expected to increase employment to 2,000 people — roughly double the current work force. Thousands of jobs are also expected to be added in Alabama where 10 Austal-designed ships will be built. Hiring at Marinette Marine is expected to ramp up in late spring or early summer and hit full stride in the summer of 2013, said Richard McCreary, president and chief executive officer at Marinette Marine. The average wage at Marinette Marine is around $45,000, and the contract is expected to generate more than $500 million of economic activity annually between Wisconsin and Michigan, he said. “For the Marinette and Menominee area, it would revitalize the economy here,” McCreary said.

The purchase plan works because the Navy will be able to buy both designs without spending additional money. Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., said all signs point toward congressional approval for the dual-purchase plan. “It’s a done deal,” he said Friday after the ceremony. “I see no opposition. No one has said, ‘No.’ It’s just the opposite.” Prices and plans submitted by Lockheed Martin and Austal are valid through the middle of December. Stupak said he expects the plan will be finalized by the middle of December.

McCreary said they are confident the contract will be finalized, but it will still take strong political support. “We are extremely optimistic we will be able to get this affected in late November or early December,” he said. The cost for each ship has been capped at $480 million. McCreary said both programs have come in under that limit.

Gromala, who lives in Menominee, was president of the boilermakers union when the LCS program was just getting its legs back in 2002. “It was something that was going to be ways down the line,” he said looking back almost a decade. ‘To see it now, actually happening, is exciting.”

By Nathan Phelps • nphelps@greenbaypressgazette.com

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