NATIONAL CITY — Bay City Marine Inc. plans to hire 130 workers this year and up to 500 within three years to staff a new shipbuilding operation on the National City waterfront.
Irving Refkin, executive vice president of the privately held ship repair and construction firm, said Bay City has begun a million-dollar improvement plan at the former ITT Cable Division facility to ready it for construction of small military boats.
The company is subleasing about 200,000 square feet of the 11-acre site, which has been vacant since ITT closed its underwater-cable division in 1978.
The new ship construction operation could add $15 million a year to the local economy, Refkin said.
Bay City, the only minority-owned ship repair and construction firm in the nation, had revenue last year of about $20 million.
It operates two ship repair facilities on San Diego Bay, employing about 110 workers, as well as one in Tacoma, Wash., where it has been building ice-breaking tugboats for the Coast Guard.
The company has completed construction of one tug and has a second vessel under way and scheduled for delivery in October. The Tacoma shipyard will be closed and 120 workers will be laid off when the second tug is completed. That operation will be moved to National City.
Bay City has bid on a third tug contract, and, if the company wins it, the tug will be built at the new facility, Refkin said.
Start-up of the new facility reverses a grim trend in ship construction on San Diego's waterfront.
New construction has disappeared, except for the National Steel & Shipbuilding Co. (Nassco), which specializes in large Navy vessels. Campbell Industries, one of the last commercial shipbuilders in the area, shut down construction operations two years ago and recently sold its waterfront location to R.A. Carpenter, which plans to use it for Navy ship repair.
Commercial ship construction has slowed dramatically in the last several years. The little existing demand has gone to Third World nations such as Taiwan, Korea and Portugal, where labor costs are much lower than in the United States.
Military construction is bound by law to stay in the United States, however.
Refkin said that Bay City plans to make its mark building smaller military vessels and does not seek to compete with the big shipbuilders such as Nassco.
Steel and aluminum boats of less than 200 feet for the military have been targeted as a primary market. Bay City does not plan to build fiberglass boats or commercial-use vessels, Refkin said.
The company sought the National City location because of San Diego's available work force and mild climate. In Washington state, Refkin said, many work days were lost because of snow and icy conditions, Refkin said. Bay City is paying about $300,000 a year under the sublease from ITT, which runs for five years and has four five-year options.
Refkin said Bay City will search for a broad-based work force to staff the new operations--"everything from receptionists to journeyman tradesmen."
Most of the workers will be hired locally, although, Refkin said, some of the Tacoma employees may follow the company to National City. He estimated that the operation will create an additional 200 jobs through subcontractors.