- The Washington Times - Monday, April 27, 2009

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. | In the midst of the worst economic funk since the Great Depression, blue-collar cities like this major manufacturer of aircraft carriers and submarines are in dire times.

But Newport News is not only holding on to its staple jobs, it has landed commitments for corporate expansions expected to create 3,360 new jobs.

They’re lucrative jobs, too, with companies such as optics and graphics giant Canon, German auto-parts maker Continental AG, and a joint venture between French nuclear power company AREVA and Northrop Grumman, owner of the massive ship works that has been the city’s backbone for well over a century.

The Department of Energy is investing $400 million into the massive atom smasher at Jefferson Lab, and Fort Eustis is expanding to handle duties transferred there in the latest round of base realignments and closures.

Most of the jobs are expected to go online over the course of 2009 and 2010, with construction of the new facilities slated to be the first jobs created.

“One thing that seems to be a recurrent theme here, particularly with the five projects from last year, is they were all by companies that have had a presence in Newport News for years,” said Old Dominion University economist and researcher Larry Filer after presenting results of a study he did on the economic benefits of the new projects.

“It seems that developing that relationship gives these firms a level of comfort and allows them to go to corporate headquarters and make a pitch to expand,” he said.

Mr. Filer’s study shows that by 2012, the incoming jobs will add $162 million in new compensation, and its ripple effect will yield tens of millions of dollars more. The new jobs will pay so well, Mr. Filer’s study estimates, it will boost the average weekly wage on the Virginia Peninsula from the present $711 to $916.

As it has for 123 years, the shipyard anchors the Newport News economy. Its 19,000 employees are the lone supplier of aircraft carriers and one of only two makers of submarines on 550 acres spanning two miles of James River shoreline. It is Virginia’s largest industrial employer.

The steady demand for naval might immunizes defense contractor Northrop Grumman Corp. from some of the perils that have pushed automakers and other heavy industries to the brink of collapse.

Canon Inc. began the run of good fortune for Newport News in May, announcing a $600 million project to create 1,000 jobs in a new plant that will produce toner cartridges for its printers.

In September, Fort Eustis, new home to the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command, got $195 million to build the command’s new operations center and headquarters. In October, AREVA NP and Northrop Grumman sealed a partnership to build components that will go into nuclear power plants to be built in North America. It will generate 540 new jobs in the next four years.

But most of those jobs haven’t arrived yet, and until they do, Newport News continues to feel the pain of rising unemployment.

Virginia’s jobless rate was 7 percent in February, nearly double the 3.8 percent rate from a year earlier. For the Hampton Roads area, which includes Newport News, the February jobless rate was 7.2 percent, and for the city of Newport News, it was 8.5 percent.

“In Hampton Roads, it’s mixed. There are other places, though, where it’s not even mixed, it’s just been problematic,” Gov. Tim Kaine said.

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