Local and state politicians, dock workers and just about anyone curious gathered to dedicate the brand-new Alaska Ship and Drydock assembly hall in Ketchikan on March 26.

Congressman Don Young gave the keynote address at a formal ceremony at the Ketchikan Shipyard, calling the opening of the 70,000 square foot facility a highlight of his long career. Young is credited with bringing the $50 million in federal funds required to upgrade the facility.

“This has got to be one of my proudest moments. And I’ve had some big ones: the oil pipeline, the 200 mile limit, the gas line. I can go on and on and on. But this is something you can see, feel and enjoy,” Young said.

“Little did I know this would be the crowning glory of the city and state’s industrial jobs,” he added.

Ketchikan Gateway Borough Mayor Dave Kiffer also spoke at the event. He praised the construction of the new assembly hall and notes that he hopes to be around in 50 years when people talk about the community’s achievement.

Randy Ruaro, a representative from Governor Sean Parnell’s office, also gave a short address, as did a number of officials from Alaska Ship and Drydock and Vigor Industrial, which acquired the facility last March.

Workers in hard hats and goggles led spectators on tours through the hall after the ceremony. The beginnings of a new ship – which will soon become the Arctic Prowler – lay on the assembly hall floor as Alaska Ship and Drydock’s Director of Shipyard Development Doug Ward talked about the capabilities of the new facility.

“There’s two cranes, there’s two hooks, and they’ll grab on to the module and fly it into place here in a few weeks,” Ward said. “And that door works like a Venetian blind, it’s a million dollar door. And it’ll raise, and boy I hope it’s high enough to get this damn boat out of here.”

The politicians and ASD workers in attendance drew attention to the job-creating potential of the facility and the Ketchikan Shipyard as a whole. Over the next few years, Ward says, the new assembly hall should bring somewhere around 200 to 300 jobs to Ketchikan.

According to Alaska Ship and Drydock, the Ketchikan Shipyard employed 157 people at the end of last year, an increase of 19 percent since Vigor acquired the site. ASD claims that those jobs pay an average of 50 percent more than other private sector jobs in Ketchikan.

One participant voiced skepticism of the assembly hall’s potential, noting that without a steady stream of contracts, continuous fulltime employment at the drydocks would remain elusive.

In response, Ward says that more shipbuilding and repair contracts will come to Ketchikan once word gets out about the quality of the shipbuilding and repair facilities in town.

“We’re moving into that oil and gas industry because we can ensure that we’re gonna have the labor, we can ensure we have the backoffice systems to support them and we can be competitive and safe with very high quality,” Ward said. “It’s a matter of winning contracts, and I think we’re poised better today than we’ve ever been to win more contracts.”

The assembly hall has the capacity to build new ships up to 500 feet long. The Arctic Prowler, which is slated to be completed in June, will service Alaska Longline Company as a freezer longliner.

Alaska Ship and Drydock representatives say that the new facility will ideally build ships for federal and state use, as well as for the fishing, mining and oil industries.

While Governor Parnell canceled previous plans for an Alaska Class Ferry, Ruaro assured the crowd that the new assembly hall at the Ketchikan Shipyard stands a good chance of constructing ferries from the new design.