Opponents of Bath Iron Works’ efforts to secure a Maine tax concession to help win shipbuilding contracts over the next 10 to 20 years have been very outspoken in criticism of BIW and General Dynamics. Critics are entitled to their views, but as an old BIW shipbuilder, I know there are two sides to this debate.

Growing up in a shipbuilding family, I lived through periods of shipyard prosperity and times when BIW’s survival was the primary subject of conversation in Bath.

Later, as a BIW employee I served under both circumstances, gaining first-hand evidence of the beneficial impacts to Maine when the shipyard is a beehive of activity.

Most agree, psychologically and economically, Maine needs a healthy shipbuilding presence in Bath, but some demand shifting from naval to commercial shipbuilding and others oppose tangible forms of state support for BIW efforts to remain competitive.

After World War II, BIW cycled through periods as a diversified shipyard building surface combatants and several classes of merchant marine vessels, while concurrently undertaking ship repair and maintenance contracts. Merchant shipbuilding in America essentially ended when shipbuilding subsidies were discontinued.

Subsequently, BIW evolved into a world-leading and highly specialized organization, focused on major Navy construction programs. That change was unpopular with peace activists, but I have always believed BIW builds ships that deter aggression and help keep the peace – hopefully with freedom and justice for all. Realistically, I know there is no viable alternative market for BIW.

With the award of Aegis cruiser and destroyer contracts in the 1980s, BIW moved into the big leagues of world shipbuilding.

That transition required tremendous investments in people, machinery, equipment, technology and buildings. BIW ships are the most complex and sophisticated being built, constructed to rigid specifications requiring a wide variety of employee skills.

General Dynamics, recognizing the need to dramatically change BIW’s shipbuilding processes, invested hundreds of millions to attain a leadership position in the industry. To retain that position, it must continue to invest.

What is Maine’s incentive to cooperate in this effort? While our state’s manufacturing jobs are rapidly disappearing, BIW will be hiring approximately 2,000 new employees – for the most part into skilled positions. Average Maine production workers earn approximately $38,000 per year, while BIW production workers average $53,000 and its average wage overall is $60,000 per year compared to $44,000 for Maine as a whole.

In total, BIW’s annual payroll is approximately $350 million. If BIW is successful in this competition, that payroll should increase.

Those dollars flow into Maine from the U.S. defense budget, with spinoff benefits to hundreds of smaller businesses. Impacts of BIW’s payroll and local purchases will multiply many times over – a terrific stimulant to Maine’s economy!

Roughly $500 million has been invested to create a “state of the art” shipbuilding facility in Bath since General Dynamics acquired BIW.

Without those investments, it is highly unlikely BIW could continue as a viable shipbuilding operation today. General Dynamics is a major U.S. corporation and a leading producer of Navy ships.

Its management has been highly successful, and Maine is indeed fortunate to have BIW – one of our state’s leading economic engines – owned by General Dynamics.

The Department of Defense is committed to strengthening our Navy and the new ships will be constructed in American shipyards. BIW’s requested shipbuilding tax credit of $3 million per year for 10 to 20 years has gone to our Legislature in an effort to help make BIW’s bid as competitive as possible. If approved, BIW’s competitive position will be enhanced via meaningful Maine support representing a partial offset to the tens of millions Mississippi has provided Ingalls (BIW’s competitor).

Three million dollars per year for 20 years is a large amount of money. But at stake is a contract to build ships valued in the billion-dollar range each – helping create an annual payroll in Maine over 100 times larger than the annual tax credit. Most important, the tax credit (if approved) would pale by comparison to the economic benefits received by Maine people if BIW wins and secures the largest number of ships awarded in this competition.

Our Navy will also receive superior ships if BIW wins, but I admit to lacking objectivity on that point.