EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard
Workers from Fincantieri Marinette Marine take pictures and video during Presidnt Donald J. Trumps's visit Thursday in Marinette.
EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard

Workers from Fincantieri Marinette Marine take pictures and video during Presidnt Donald J. Trumps's visit Thursday in Marinette.

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MARINETTE — Less than two months after landing a monumental frigate contract, Fincantieri Marinette Marine had a historic visitor to its shipyard Thursday afternoon.

President Donald Trump, the 45th president, spoke to an estimated several hundred workers and invitees in an outside area that normally is used for modular assembly. It was the first time a sitting president has been in Marinette.

On April 30, the Department of Defense awarded a $795 million contract to build the first-in-class guided-missile frigates (FFGx) for the U.S. Navy, with an option for nine additional ships. The contract could be worth up to $5.5 billion and construction could continue for 15 years if all the options are exercised.

Trump, who toured a littoral combat ship before his speech, spoke how the local shipyard has climbed from nearly going out of business to being a key player in world shipbuilding.

“We’re here today to celebrate a resounding victory for all of you, for Wisconsin, for the United States military,” he said. “Our entire nation is very proud of Wisconsin. Not long ago the future of this historic shipyard was looking — can I use the word bleak? — yes, it was bleak. It was down to 44 people and was getting ready to close up. And then a lot of good things came out. (FMM) is the mainstay of your community by far.”

Trump said the new contract will benefit FMM’s current 1,500 employees, and enable it to hire 1,000 more workers, along with triggering an estimated 9,000 new jobs through the Wisconsin supply chain.

“It’s one of the biggest contracts you’ve ever seen in the state,” he said.

The shipyard, in its 75-year-history, has built about 1,500 vessels.

“You’ve kept our sailors safe and our Navy strong,” Trump said. “Every single day you proved that American workers are the best in the world and now you’re going to do things like you’ve never done before.”

The president said one of his administration’s goals was to rebuild the country’s Navy, including bringing the number of ships up to 350.

“It (the number of ships) was actually down to a level that was World War I — that’s a long time ago, isn’t it?,” he said. “We’re building it up very rapidly. It will be bigger and stronger than it ever was before.”

Trump said the new ships being built are unique. “They are like yachts with missiles on them,” he said.

He referred to FMM as “a truly incredible place” and called workers there “a national treasure.” He said he will always have their backs.

“As long as I’m your president, America will never lose that shipbuilding talent or capability,” Trump said. “It won’t lose that excellence or the expertise or the men and women of Marinette Marine. It will never lose that.”

Speaking of the shipyard, Trump said, “Since 1942, when your company was founded to build five wooden barges for World War II, this small town in Wisconsin has raised up one of the premier shipbuilding enterprises anywhere on earth.”

Regarding the employees, he said. “Your tradition of excellence has given Americans two classes of combat ships, Coast Guard cutters that patrol our maritime borders, state-of-the-art ice breakers ... several of the Staten Island ferries and so much more. The workers of this shipyard and the people of this state have always prospered and persevered by holding fast to our shared American values. In this country we honor work, we celebrate great craftsmanship.”

“I understand craftsmanship. I understand this world so well, you wouldn’t believe it. .... I appreciate talent and that’s real talent.”

Trump said it wasn’t easy getting funding for the Navy. “Democrats don’t like spending money on the military,” he said. “Some day they will explain that to me.” 

He said he follows two simple rules, “Buy American and hire American.”

“The FFGx class will not just be a win for Wisconsin workers, it will also be a major victory for our Navy,” Trump said. “These stunning ships will deliver the overwhelming force, lethality and power we need to engage Americans’ enemies anywhere.”

Trump talked about the future frigates. He said each ship will boast vertical missile launchers, have state-of-the-art radar and research capabilities and carry the Navy’s top helicopters and drones.

“There’s never been anything so advanced as what you’re building,” Trump said. “It’s 30 times more powerful than the previous generation. Through your sweat, skill and devotion, the workers of this shipyard will forge the future of the United States Navy.”

The president said when the ships are in other parts of the world, other nations will take notice.

“You will fashion the ultimate symbol of American power and American prestige,” Trump said. “Wherever the FFGx cuts across the horizon, it will go as a 7,500-ton message to the world that American life is second to none.

He spoke of the importance of a strong military. “When the time comes and history calls, when the flag is threatened, we defend our country like nobody else has ever defended our country or our flag,” Trump said. “With the help of everyone here today, this shipyard will continue to prosper, this state will continue to thrive and this nation, which we love, will climb to new heights and greatness and that’s what’s happening right now.”

Employees recognized

Trump recognized a pair of FMM employees and each came on the stage with brief statements.

Gary Ihde, a production manager with 17 years experience at the shipyard, told how he worked his way up from a trade position and he lauded the workforce. “These employees in front of you are here to build the best ships possible,” he said to Trump. “The sense of pride felt when a ship is launched or goes out to trials is like nothing else. These men and women breath live into steel.”

Tyler Cahill, a quality coordinator, spoke how he started as a welder in 2012 and has advanced. He talked about the importance of FMM. “The shipyard is the lifeline of the community,” he said.

Cahill is a Navy veteran who served in Afghanistan. He also is a youth hockey coach.

Both men thanked Trump for his commitment to the Navy.

Introduction

Trump was introduced by Jan Allman, chief executive officer of FMM. She said the shipyard is honored to have the president as a visitor and she spoke of the new contract being a game-changer for the shipbuilder.

 “We’re focused on giving the Navy the toughest warships for our future fleet — the next generation guided missile frigate,” she said. “It will be a game-changer. Our sailors deserve it because tomorrow’s battles will not be won with yesterday’s ships.”

Allman thanked lawmakers, including U.S. senators Ron Johnson (R) and Tammy Baldwin (D), along with U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Green Bay, and State Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette.

Nygren was in attendance, but Gallagher was not as his wife gave birth Wednesday to their first child, a daughter.

Politicians weigh in

State and local politicians offered input on Trump’s historic visit. Nygren, in a statement, said he was honored to greet the president and welcome him to Marinette. He wrote of action done in the Legislature to help FMM and how the contract will benefit the shipyard.

“I’d like to thank President Trump for his visit and commitment to Marinette Marine,” Nygren said. “I’d also like to thank Marinette Marine for their dedication to making northeastern Wisconsin a great place to work, live and raise a family.”

Gallagher released a statement as well. He said, “Today, President Trump saw firsthand the hard work and unparalleled skill of the workforce at Fincantieri Marinette Marine. Under his leadership, the United States is committed to rebuilding our Navy ...”

Marinette Mayor Steve Genisot also provided a statement. He thanked the president for supporting the contract that will have a great economic impact on this area. “The City of Marinette is honored to welcome President Trump, the first U.S. President to ever visit Marinette,” he said.

Other notes

John F. Kennedy visited Marinette in 1960, but that was before he became president. He was on the campaign trail. Vice President Mike Pence was at the shipyard in November.  

Trump, who is in a battle with Democrat Joe Biden in the November election, touched on many of his signature topics. He boasted how the economy is doing great and he expects the best year ever in 2021; he lauded unemployment low figures and a thriving stock market before the pandemic hit; he said COVID-19 positive cases are up because there is more testing; and he blamed the COVID reports on the “fake news” while pointing to the back of he staging area where media was assembled.