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Owner hopes for energy construction at Avondale

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 5, 2013 at 5:45 pm •  Published: February 5, 2013

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc. thinks the energy business might save the jobs of the 2,000 engineers and crafts people remaining at its Avondale shipyard — and even increase the workforce.

The company is bidding on oil and gas infrastructure projects and will open a Houston office on March 1 to be closer to potential customers and partners, Chris Kastner, the company's corporate vice president and general manager of corporate development, said Tuesday.

He says he cannot promise that Avondale will stay open after the end of this year, when it will end 75 years as a shipyard.

"I can make the commitment that we are speaking with potential customers and partners about new projects. If we are successful, then we're in business," he said.

Brian Ruttenbur, an analyst who follows Huntington Ingalls for CRT Capital Research, said, "I hope they're able to get it done. I'm a bit of a pessimist in this economy. That's a very big space that they're trying to fill. I'm hoping as a realistic scenario they are able to fill up some of those buildings, maybe with a variety of industries."

About 5,000 people worked at Avondale in 2010, when Northrop Grumman Corp. announced that it was spinning off Virginia-based Huntington Ingalls. About 2,600 worked there last July. Kastner said the current total is about 2,000, but the 268-acre facility on the Mississippi River near New Orleans has employed up to 10,000 and could do so again.

"We have a great workforce at Avondale with unique engineering and manufacturing capabilities that have been demonstrated for many decades," Mike Petters, HII's president and chief executive officer, said in a news release. "Additionally, these skilled men and women are located in the heart of a region where there is more manufacturing demand than the current suppliers can meet, particularly in the energy markets."

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