Bartlett CEO Optimistic About Lordstown Navy Repair Facility

HOWLAND, Ohio – Edward Bartlett Jr. says he didn’t realize just how serious the U.S. Navy’s equipment problems were until he served aboard the USS Gato, an older, Thresher-class nuclear submarine that prowled the seas during the Cold War.

The reckoning came during the autumn of 1985, when the Gato was dispatched on an intelligence-gathering mission in the Atlantic, Bartlett said.

“Everything that could break, broke,” Bartlett told a group of business and political representatives Thursday at a luncheon hosted by The Ohio Growth Association at the Grand Resort. Indeed, the retired Navy captain said the sub wasn’t yet out of its river port before the air conditioning quit.

“That was just the first of things that went wrong on that trip,” he said. “We had to fight that ship as much as we fought the Soviets.”

The crew returned unharmed and the mission was successful, but the experience never left Bartlett.

Instead, it’s served as the impetus behind the retired captain’s company, Bartlett Maritime Corp., to construct a nearly 1 million square-foot component repair and reconditioning facility in Lordstown, along with a larger plant 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 taken from ships that are in overhaul,” he says.

Lordstown is a prime location since it is close to an airport, is supported by a rail network, and is accessible to a freeway system, Bartlett noted. He also said that the region’s experienced workforce made the area a strong choice.

The Lordstown center would work with the U.S. Navy’s four shipyards and renew, rebuild and recertify components, Bartlett says. Then, they would be transported back to the shipyard and installed on the vessels. Many of these parts would most likely be transported by rail because of their size.

Bartlett, the company’s chairman and CEO, added he’d like to have a site picked out and construction started by sometime next year.

All of it hinges on the U.S. Navy giving the go-ahead, a process that has proven woefully slow.

“It would be up to the Navy to decide exactly what they want to do here,” he says.

Since the project was first broached three years ago, the company and its principals have made progress through meetings with the U.S. Secretary of the Navy, members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.

Bartlett’s proposal for Lorain would entail the Navy leasing his shipyard for 30 years through a public-private partnership. Once the lease is up, the Navy would own the facilities.

However, the Navy has not made any moves toward approving the plan.

“There’s more work to do, but we’re doing it,” he said, using a golf analogy equating the project’s status to a two-foot putt. “It’s not a two-inch putt, but a two-foot putt. We’re at it every day.”

Should the venture be successful, approximately 1,000 full-time jobs would be created in Lordstown and another 2,000 to 3,000 in Lorain. Moreover, the two projects would spur between 2,000 and 3,000 temporary construction jobs.

The Ohio AFL-CIO announced Wednesday it would host a rally Monday at the Black River Landing Amphitheater in Lorain to support the dual projects.

“Union workers built this country and strengthened our national security,” Ohio AFL-CIO President Tim Burga said in a statement. “Ohioans in Lorain, Lordstown and across the state are ready now to do our part by expanding and improving our Naval shipyard performance.”

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio and U.S. Rep. 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’s ready. The union is ready. The people are ready and the locations are very welcoming.”

The U.S. Navy faces immense challenges when it comes to repurposing and reconditioning its nuclear submarine fleet and other ships, Bartlett says. “About 20% of the Navy’s submarine fleet is parked,” he said, citing a 2018 report issued by the General Accountability Office.

While some of these subs are grounded for planned maintenance, a significant number of them are ships that are simply unable to get underway.

In February, five Ohio lawmakers – Brown, Ryan, Republican U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, and U.S. Reps. Marcy Kaptur and Shontel Brown, both Democrats – sent a letter to Secretary of the Navy 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 the Bartlett proposal, but calls attention to maintenance issues and delays repairing Navy vessels.

“The need is there,” Bartlett says.

Lordstown Mayor Arno Hill says he and Bartlett have been in discussions for more than two years about the project.

“We’re excited,” he says. “This could be a big boom to the whole area and I’d say we’re on the 10-yard line trying to push it in.”

Pictured: Edward Bartlett Jr. says his company, Bartlett Maritime Corp., looks to construct a nearly 1 million square-foot component repair and reconditioning facility in Lordstown along with a larger plant in Lorain.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.