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Smooth sailing for EB

Published December 27. 2012 4:00AM

Amid steadily declining casino revenues, the uncertainty of state support for the tourism industry, and stubbornly high unemployment triggered in part by Pfizer's plans to lay off 1,100 employees and move drug-discovery work to Massachusetts, the vitality of Electric Boat shines brightly as a beacon of hope in the region's choppy economic seas.

The Navy's decision last week to awarded Electric Boat one contract worth nearly $2 billion to continue early design work on a new class of ballistic-missile submarines, along with a separate $2.5 billion construction contract for the next two Virginia-class submarines, represent a Christmas present to southeastern Connecticut in a season filled with so many lumps of coal.

"For southeastern Connecticut, this is welcome news for ensuring stability in the historic gains our region has made in growing our submarine design workforce and a vote of confidence for the talented men and women of Electric Boat," said U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District.

As home of the Naval Submarine Base and the EB shipyard, Groton prides itself as Submarine Capital of the World, but EB's reach extends far beyond this town on the east side of the Thames River.

EB workers and subcontractors live in virtually every municipality from the Connecticut River to the Rhode Island border and beyond, and many towns are home to businesses that support the submarine construction industry.

New London in particular has benefited from EB's 2010 purchase of Pfizer's former world research headquarters on Pequot Avenue. The company now is the city's largest employer, with its 2,750 work force hundreds larger than the one formerly employed by Pfizer at the New London facility.

In addition, EB's continued prosperity was bolstered earlier this month when both the Senate and House versions of the $631 billion National Defense Authorization Act included $778 million for the Navy to proceed with the purchase of two Virginia-class submarines in 2014.

While the submarine manufacturer's success should help keep the economy on an even keel, it should also serve as a reminder of the risks of basing a regional economy on one industry.

At the end of the Cold War submarine construction slowed and EB laid off thousands of workers; the Defense Department nearly decided a few years ago to close the sub base.

Business leaders and government officials must continuously set a course toward a diverse economy to weather future storms.

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