JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – J. Michael McGrath remembers back in the ‘70s looking into the harbor and seeing close to 30 ships at a time. But now, well, you’d be lucky to see more than a handful.
"We're very concerned, you have to be,” said McGrath, executive director of the Jacksonville Area Ship Repair Association (JASRA).
He says in the last year the workload for local ship repairmen has been cut by almost 75-percent due to federal budget uncertainties and that’s affected the number of workers. According to McGrath, in just one year the local workforce has gone from around 2,600 employees in January 2012 to just 500 this month.
“The workload to support our workforce is just not here right now,” said McGrath. “It’s going to be a down year. There’s going to be about 18 months that we’re really going to have to struggle.”
McGrath says with the retirement of the frigates, the possibility of sequestration, and no foreseeable new Navy maintenance contracts in Fiscal 2013, the local workforce is being forced to look elsewhere.
"And once you lose them, it's very hard to get them back,” said McGrath.
Three Amphibious Ready Group ships with 2,000 sailors are expected to arrive in Mayport in 2014, which will bring some maintenance work to the area. But McGrath says it can’t come soon enough.