Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Biting the Bullet, Connecticut Looks beyond Defense Industries

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Biting the Bullet, Connecticut Looks beyond Defense Industries

Article excerpt

WHEN the whistle blows for the 3 p.m. shift change, thousands of workers stream out of the gates of Electric Boat, the nation's largest submarine manufacturer; its huge complex sits on a small hill overlooking Connecticut's Thames River.

With a work force here of about 17,000, Electric Boat - plus a United States Navy submarine base, a Navy research laboratory, and numerous other defense firms, factories, and contractors within several miles of each other - make southeastern Connecticut one of the most defense-dependent regions in the US.

It is also expected to take the worst hit from continuing defense cuts. "The potential impact of peace in the world is going to be devastating for this area," says Dick Guggenheim, transportation planner at the Southeastern Connecticut Regional Planning Agency in Norwich.

New London County, which covers most of southeastern Connecticut, is diverse. Its 21 towns range from industrial centers to picturesque seaside communities, rural havens, and small urban hubs. It has wealthy neighborhoods and pockets of poverty.

The county's common denominator is defense: Twenty-five percent of its 145,000 labor force works in the industry, and the area has one of the highest incomes per capita from defense contracts in the US; it was $9,785 in 1989.

But, according to a study done this year by Regional Economic Models Inc. of Amherst, Mass., 18,000 people are expected to lose their jobs by 1996.

Electric Boat, which also has several thousand employees at its Quonset Point shipyard in neighboring Rhode Island, expects to cut its total work force in half by 1996 because the Navy has decided to build fewer submarines.

"Our business base is diminishing," says Neil Ruenzel, director of communications. "The best we can hope for is one new contract per year to build a sub." The company, a division of General Dynamics Corporation, is building the first Seawolf submarine and has won a second contract.

At the Navy submarine base downriver from Electric Boat, 3,000 workers are expected to lose their jobs by 1992. In addition, the Navy is proposing to consolidate the New London-based Naval Underwater Systems Center with a laboratory in Newport, R. …

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