An analysis of Bath Iron Works’ far-reaching impact on Maine’s economy released Tuesday highlighted the shipyard’s success in importing and training new workers, a model that labor experts call a key step in combating the state’s aging workforce.
An independent analysis by the University of Southern Maine’s Center for Business and Economic Research found that BIW supported more than $8.4 billion in total economic activity in Maine between 2017 and 2021. That figure includes the shipyard’s payroll and operational spending, as well as other local spending it was indirectly responsible for — including salaries for BIW employees and its vendors, spent on health care, food and housing.
“BIW reflects the type of industry you want in your state,” said Dana Connors, president and CEO of the Maine Chamber of Commerce. “[The report] remind us how lucky we are.”
Senator Angus King, who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, praised the shipyard for its military and economic impact.
“Bath Iron Works has long been a cornerstone of the Maine community and the backbone of the U.S. Navy,” King said in a statement. “This report represents the numbers we already know from the Maine faces and businesses we work with every day. Representing 17% of Maine’s manufacturing GDP, supporting nearly 12,000 Maine jobs and providing $1.8 billion in economic impact (all 2021 figures), Bath Iron Works is truly a vital and irreplaceable component of Maine and our nation’s economy.”
BIW directly employed more than 6,600 workers in 2021, a 17% increase from 2011, according to the report. This growth significantly outpaced the 5% increase in total employment nationwide over the same period.
That growth is due in part to aggressive efforts to attract labor from Maine and elsewhere, according to the report. BIW has invested $130 million in training and recruiting skilled workers over the past decade and has hired approximately 1,000 employees per year over the past five years.
In 2021, at least 690 new workers came from abroad, a trend that Connors called “critical” to the future of Maine, where deaths have outpaced births for more than a decade.
As older workers retire, Maine and its employers must find ways to train younger workers and bring in labor from other states, said Labor Department spokeswoman Jessica Picard.
“Part of the state’s 10-year economic plan includes attracting 75,000 people to Maine’s talent pool, including from other states,” Picard said in a statement. “The Mills administration is proud to partner with Bath Iron Works as they employ, employ and train thousands of Mainers for quality and in-demand jobs through workforce programs such as Registered Apprenticeships and the Maine Hire-A-Vet campaign.”
While BIW has been successful in growing its workforce over the past several years, widespread housing and child care shortages continue to pose challenges to recruitment and retention, President Chuck Krugh said in a statement. He called for public-private partnerships to tackle these issues, echoed by Bath City Manager Marc Meyers.
“We’ve had a great working relationship with BIW and look forward to continuing to partner in finding solutions to help them recruit and retain,” said Meyers, who cited Bath’s new supplemental housing rules as a positive step forward. “We’d love to be able to do our part and help with that, whether it’s trying to help with affordable housing. [or] transportation related questions.”
As local and state lawmakers work with nonprofit groups and employers to lower barriers for transplant workers, Sen. King and Rep. Jared Golden hope to spend the coming weeks securing Navy contracts that allow BIW to continue to grow.
“This report demonstrates the importance of the shipyard’s defense industrial base and the need for Congress to provide the predictability and consistency the shipyard needs to continue to build the highest quality ships, train and hire qualified shipyards, and continue to have a major impact on this state’s economy,” Golden wrote in the statement. “To that end, I am proud to have obtained authorization for a third DDG-51 destroyer, in addition to a contract to build up to 15 DDGs over the next five years, in this year’s annual Defense Authorization Act.”
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