In late April, the U.S. Navy awarded Fincantieri Marinette Marine the contract to build the first FFG(X) ship, with an option to build nine more. Each ship has a price tag between $800 million and $950 million, meaning the contract could be worth $5.5 billion.
“This contract is a huge, huge win for Wisconsin,” says Ann Franz, executive director of the NEW Manufacturing Alliance.
The company estimates the contract will create 1,000 new jobs directly at the shipyard and 4,000 more jobs at the company’s suppliers and other businesses, factoring in the hiring of additional workers.
“Fincantieri Marinette Marine has always been committed to finding suppliers in Wisconsin,” Franz says. “We have the North Coast Marine Manufacturing group, and Fincantieri meets with the associates annually at a breakfast event. The company can’t wait for this year’s gathering since they will need additional suppliers to help fulfill the contract.”
In Northeast Wisconsin, the manufacturer works with with an estimated 200 suppliers. “Having a strong supply chain close by is critical to Fincantieri Marinette Marine,” Franz says.
Landing the contract was an all-hands-on-deck endeavor, with the state providing vital funds to expand the Marinette harbor and vocal support on Capitol Hill for the project from Rep. Mike Gallagher, who represents Marinette in Congress, and Sen. Tammy Baldwin.
Gallagher says the company’s commitment to regional suppliers will create jobs in communities besides Marinette.
“Fox Valley Metal builds shelves that go on these ships, we’ve got our local pipefitters, we’ve got Team Industries in Kaukauna that builds components … It has a multiplying effect, and all of these industries stand to gain a lot,” he says. “This is a massive win for Northeast Wisconsin.”
Last year, the State of Wisconsin committed $31 million as part of the 2019-21 state budget to support worker training and infrastructure development in Marinette, including a $29 million investment through the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s Harbor Assistance Program to deepen the Port of Marinette.
Fincantieri Marinette Marine competed for the Navy contract with four other shipbuilders across the country. “When we began this journey nearly two years ago, it was with the belief that there was a place for new ideas, new platforms and new partners in an already-talented U.S. shipbuilding industry,” Fincantieri Marine Group CEO Dario Deste said in a news release. The “announcement validates that thinking.”
The new frigate is patterned after the FREMM, a Fincantieri vessel used by the Italian and French navies. The ship is much larger than the Littoral Combat Ships currently being built in Marinette and measuring 496 feet in length and 65 feet across the beam. The FFG(X) will be able to accommodate a crew of 200.
Company officials say LCS production will fade out as work begins on the new frigate. Fincantieri Marinette Marine employs 2,500 and will need 1,000 more workers to build the larger ships, along with other work being conducted at the shipyard.
A vital part of the project will be training new workers and helping incumbent workers upgrade their skills. The North Coast Marine Manufacturing Training Center was designed to do just that. Operated by Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, the center opened in 2012 and includes a marine welding lab, an electrical lab and a fully functional computer lab. Due to demand, training is conducted around the clock for all shifts.
“The center has played a key role in helping workers get the skills they need to build these ships,” Franz says.