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Revitalization of Manufacturing: Rise of Shipbuilding Industry in Mobile
(Alabama Media Group 01 JUL 16) Shipbuilding transformed Mobile, Alabama, during World War II, as tens of thousands of men and women came to the port city to build Liberty Ships to defend the cause of freedom around the world.
Seventy-five years later shipbuilding is once again reshaping Mobile.
Few established global corporations have the capacity to look into the future and see the possibilities to redefine manufacturing through innovations in design, technology, operational processes, and dedicated, skilled employees. Even fewer corporations harness those innovations in a way that transforms the culture and economic future of one city and the surrounding region in less than 10 years.
Austal USA changes the paradigm.
Austal's capital investment of over $400 million to build two new U.S. Navy vessel classes in Mobile has led to the direct employment of more than 4,000 professionals and skilled production employees and is reshaping the economy of the greater Mobile area.
The defense of freedom continues to be the driving force.
"It's all because of the quality of the individual that we have working here," explains Austal USA President Craig Perciavalle. "I think there's a lot of pride in what we do. When you're building something that directly supports our nation's defense and you see the crews come in to train for a couple of months before the ships get delivered, you can see that the work we're doing is very very real."
Austal USA is building two high-speed, multi-hull aluminum ship classes for the U.S. Navy, both designed to operate in shallow waters:
Expeditionary Fast Transit (EPF) is a 2-hull, shallow-draft aluminum high-speed vesseldesigned to enable rapid deployment of troops and cargo with minimal port infrastructure; and the
Independence-variant Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), a 3-hull high-speed aluminum combat vessel capable of anti-submarine warfare, mine countermeasures and surface warfare. The LCS accommodates modular weapons systems, making it easy to adapt to rapidly evolving threat situations.
When Austal USA set up shop in Mobile in 1999, the company had fewer than 100 employees on 14 acres. In 2007, the company began planning an expanded operation starting with a clean slate and green light from its corporate parent. As the capital expansion began, the company grew to around 800 employees in 2009. Growth since 2012 has been phenomenal.
"Back in late 2009 we had about 800 employees here and now we're at well over 4,000, so there's been a lot of employment growth as well, as we've supported both major Navy programs," Perciavalle says.
The company's presence goes far beyond that of being the largest employer in the area. They've generated around $31 million in tax revenue and created around 15,000 direct and indirect jobs.
"That's something that's never been done in this area before," said Bill Pfister, vice president of facility development and one of Austal's longest tenured employees.
The numbers reveal the economic value of Austal USA's presence, but the transformational impact is the result of synergies generated by Austal's innovations in technology, operational systems and workforce development.
Pfister said he once heard the Gulf Coast described as the "Silicon Valley of shipbuilding" because of the long history of shipbuilding, especially during the World War II era, and he agrees with that assessment.
Troy Wayman, vice president of economic development for the Mobile Chamber of Commerce, explains.
"Austal brought state-of-the-art advanced manufacturing processes to Mobile," Wayman says. "Austal's use of modular manufacturing in shipbuilding is cutting-edge and puts Mobile on the map as a key player in the global shipbuilding industry."
When asked to describe Austal USA's impact on civic pride in the Mobile area, Austal USA President Craig Perciavalle offered two examples.
The first was a recent observation by Perciavalle's 16-year-old son: "You know, Dad, everywhere I go now I see someone with an Austal parking pass hanging from their car."
And then Perciavalle added: "Just last night at baseball practice someone came up to me, showed me a picture, and said: 'Craig, I want to tell you how much we appreciate you supporting the Boys and Girls Club.' It's humbling and rewarding to see the impact we're having on the community."
Perciavalle continues. "There's a lot of community pride in what we're able to do here for our country. You can't get away from it and that's a wonderful thing."
Shipbuilding has long been a force for economic prosperity on the Gulf Coast. As hardworking Americans joined together during World War II to work for the cause of freedom, Mobile took its place as a leader in the shipbuilding industry.
Today, Austal USA propels that legacy forward as it builds Littoral Combat Ships and Expeditionary Fast Transit vessels for the U.S. Navy. And on Sept. 10, the Navy will commission the nation's eighth Littoral Combat Ship, the Austal-built USS Montgomery (LCS 8) named after the capital city of Alabama, right across from Austal's shipyard on the Mobile waterfront.
Pride in community and pride in the United States prevails again in Mobile.
Austal USA is committed to this heritage of American manufacturing in the pursuit of liberty and to civic engagement, corporate citizenship and empowered employees working with purpose and patriotism.