HOWLAND, Ohio — Edward Bartlett Jr. says he didn’t realize how serious the U.S. Navy’s equipment problems were until he served aboard the USS Gato, a former sub -Thresher-class nuclear sailor that prowled the seas during the Cold War.
The judgment came in the fall of 1985, when the Gato was sent on an intelligence-gathering mission in the Atlantic, Bartlett said.
“Anything that could break, has broken,” Bartlett told a group of business and political officials Thursday at a luncheon hosted by the Ohio Growth Association at the Grand Resort. Indeed, the retired sea captain said the submarine had not yet left its river port before the air conditioning shut off.
“That was just the first thing that went wrong on that trip,” he said. “We had to fight this ship as much as we fought the Soviets.”
The crew returned unscathed and the mission was successful, but the experience never left Bartlett.
Instead, it served as the impetus for the retired captain’s company, Bartlett Maritime Corp.to build a nearly one-million-square-foot component repair and remanufacturing facility in Lordstown, as well as a larger factory in Lorain that would manufacture new parts for the U.S. Navy.
“Our plan for the Lordstown area is a facility between 700,000 and 1 million square feet dedicated to repairing equipment salvaged from ships being overhauled,” he says.
Lordstown is a prime location because it is close to an airport, supported by a rail network and accessible to a motorway system, Bartlett noted. He also said the region’s experienced workforce made it a wise choice.
The Lordstown center would work with all four US Navy shipyards and renew, rebuild and recertify components, Bartlett said. Then they would be taken back to the shipyard and installed on the ships. Many of these coins would most likely be transported by rail due to their size.
Bartlett, the company’s president and CEO, added that he would like a site to be chosen and construction to begin by next year.
Everything depends on the green light from the US Navy, a process that has proven painfully slow.
“It would be up to the Navy to decide exactly what they want to do here,” he says.
Since the project was first discussed three years ago, the company and its leaders have made progress through meetings with the U.S. Secretary of the Navy, members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate.
Bartlett’s proposal for Lorain would involve the Navy leasing its shipyard for 30 years through a public-private partnership. Once the lease is completed, the Navy would own the facilities.
However, the Navy made no move toward approving the plan.
“There’s still work to be done, but we’re doing it,” he said, using a golf analogy, likening draft status to a two-foot putt. “It’s not a two-inch putt, it’s a two-foot putt. We are there every day.
If the venture is successful, around 1,000 full-time jobs would be created in Lordstown and another 2,000 to 3,000 in Lorain. In addition, the two projects would create between 2,000 and 3,000 temporary jobs in the construction sector.
The Ohio AFL-CIO announced Wednesday that it would hold a rally Monday at the Black River Landing Amphitheater in Lorain to support both projects.
“Union workers have built this country and strengthened our national security,” Ohio AFL-CIO President Tim Burga said in a statement. “The Ohioans of Lorain, Lordstown and across the state are now ready to do their part in expanding and improving the performance of our shipyard.”
U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and U.S. Representative Tim Ryan, D-13, plan to attend the event to support the projects.
“This area has people who want to do this kind of work,” Bartlett says. “The company is ready. The union is ready. The people are ready and the places are very welcoming.
The US Navy faces immense challenges when it comes to repurposing and reconditioning its fleet of nuclear submarines and other vessels, Bartlett said. “About 20% of the Navy’s submarine fleet is parked,” he said, citing a 2018 report by the General Accountability Office.
While some of these submarines are grounded for planned maintenance, a significant number of them are ships that are simply unable to start.
In February, five Ohio lawmakers — Brown, Ryan, Republican U.S. Senator Rob Portman, and U.S. Representatives Marcy Kaptur and Shontel Brown, both Democrats — sent a letter to Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro urging the secretary to consider Ohio and the Great Lakes region as a potential site for a Navy shipyard.
The letter does not specifically mention Bartlett’s proposal, but draws attention to maintenance problems and delays in repairing Navy ships.
“The need is there,” says Bartlett.
Lordstown Mayor Arno Hill said he and Bartlett had been discussing the project for more than two years.
“We are delighted,” he said. “It could be a big boom all over the area and I would say we’re on the 10-yard line trying to push it.”
Pictured: Edward Bartlett Jr. says his company, Bartlett Maritime Corp., plans to build a nearly one million square foot component repair and reconditioning facility in Lordstown, as well as a larger factory in Lorraine.
Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.