Cutbacks at Sub Base Won't Sink Economy In Connecticut
But it's a sign of more hard times for the struggling state
BOSTON — THE proposed downsizing of the New London Naval Submarine Base in Groton, Conn., amounts to a relatively soft blow compared with the number of hard economic knocks this defense-dependent state has already endured.
Defense Secretary Les Aspin's recommendation that the base be scaled back includes closing down and relocating the facility's submarine operations, keeping open its naval hospital, and expanding its submarine school.
According to the Defense Department, the base's downsizing will mean a total net loss of only 2,227 jobs. To offset the initial loss of 4,655 military and 1,114 civilian jobs, the Pentagon plans to expand the base's submarine training facility by transferring an Orlando, Fla., submarine school to the Groton base. The new expanded training facility would add an additional 3,542 new military personnel.
Compared with the possible shutdown of the facility, which employs 11,000, job losses were not as bad as anticipated. "It's painful and anytime there are jobs lost, it hurts. But it could have been a lot worse," says Marvin Fast, press secretary to Sen. Christopher Dodd (D) of Connecticut.
Connecticut has experienced its share of tough economic times. Last year, General Dynamics Electric Boat Division in Groton laid off 2,500 workers; it plans to cut its 19,000 work force by more than half by 1995. Also, jet-engine builder Pratt & Whitney - a division of United Technologies Corporation - announced plans to eliminate 10,500 jobs by the end of 1994.
"Connecticut has been in recession since February of 1989," says Edward Deak, an economist at Fairfield University in Fairfield, Conn. "We've already lost about 180,000 jobs over that time. That's roughly 1 of every 9 jobs the state had at that time that isn't here anymore."
As a result, Connecticut's congressional delegation has put a priority on the issue of defense-related job losses, particularly in the southeastern region of the state. As the most heavily defense-dependent area in the country on a per capita basis, it is especially vulnerable. Half the jobs in the area are tied to defense, Mr. Deak says.
Connecticut lawmakers are banding together on the issue. Last Friday, Senator Dodd, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D), and Rep. Sam Gejdenson (D) sent a letter to James Courter, the chairman of the Base Closure Commission, to invite him to visit the Groton facility. If he shows up, they plan to make a case against downsizing.
Senator Lieberman argues that it would be foolish to move submarines out of Groton because both the base training center and Electric Boat - the nation's premier builder of nuclear-powered submarines - are headquartered in the city.
According to Lt. Jacquie Yost, a United States Navy spokeswoman, the downsizing of the Groton base is in line with the general scaling back of the US Navy. In 1988, the US Naval force included a total of 565 ships including submarines, aircraft carriers, and all other ships. Today that figure is down to 457 ships and will be getting smaller, Lieutenant Yost says. "A lot of it is the budget realities that are driving this as far as just downsizing," he adds. "We don't have as many submarines now as in the
past, and we aren't going to have as many in the future."
State officials applaud President Clinton's five-year, $20 billion plan announced last week to help workers and communities hard-hit by defense cutbacks. But it will offset only a little the hard times the state will have to endure, says Joseph Cohen, spokesman for Connecticut's department of economic development.
"Connecticut expects to benefit from that package. But because conversion is a lengthy, expensive endeavor, there is going to be a lot of employee displacement and company failures that are going to be very painful for people to deal with," Mr. Cohen says.