Ship repair industry shows signs of growth, officials say

By Tarik Minor - Anchor, I-TEAM reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Top Navy officials from Washington, D.C. and Rep. Ander Crenshaw paid Naval Station Mayport a special visit Tuesday, telling concerned business owners that the ship repair industry is showing some real signs of growth.

Business owners say the job market has looked bleak over the last several years following budget cuts at the national level.

People who rely on the Navy got the news Tuesday they've been waiting for as the assistant secretary of the Navy met with local members of the ship building industry.

The USS New York arrived in Mayport in December, bringing with it hundreds of jobs for sailors and their families. Assistant Secretary of the Navy Sean Stackley said the arrival of the USS Iwo Jima and USS Ft. McHenry later this year will create even more economic stability.

"The Navy is bringing more ships to Mayport," Stackley said. "We are very concerned about the industrial base in Mayport."

Stackley told concerned business owners and city officials that an additional 2,000 sailors will be in Mayport by the end of the year. Crenshaw said all of North Florida should see the benefits.

"We have a very strong industrial base in Mayport, folks that work on ship repair, and that's why Sean is here to see the work that they are doing," Crenshaw said.

The news comes following a challenging year for business owners like Mike Whalen, who owns Specialty Marine and Industrial Supplies. The business has been in Mayport since 1990 and is expecting 2014 to be a banner year.

"It got so tough at some point," Whalen said. "We have group called the Jacksonville Area Ship Repair Association and 12 members had to go back to Norfolk because there was no work here. When you go from 3,000 in the industrial base to 300, it makes it tough."

Whalen said Stackley and Crenshaw's visit sends the message that North Florida has not been forgotten. Gary Clark, who's a project manager for General Dynamics, can already see the change.

"A lot of people lost jobs, people that worked on the base, like labor agencies, barber shops were shut down, local food stores were shut down on Mayport Road," Clark said. "Now it's happening now, Mayport Road is starting to grow."

The Navy estimates the economic impact will be an additional $75 million to northeast Florida over the next several years.

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