Local business & family ties to USS Gerald Ford

The newest aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. Gerald Ford, was just christened in Newport News. But this state-of-the-art ship has Richmond connections. A local company is supplying some important parts.

The U.S.S. Gerald Ford was christened by the former President's daughter Susan at Newport News Shipbuilding. But there's another family story on this ship.

"Hawkins-Hamilton is a manufacturers representative firm," said Hawkins-Hamilton Company President David Williams.

Chesterfield company Hawkins-Hamilton is the sales agent for a Canadian company called Velan Valve Corporation, which has designed about 1000 valves for the ship. It's a business relationship that goes back generations.

Recalled Williams, "My grandfather met A.K. Velan at Newport News Shipbuilding. I believe they actually met on a fossil-powered aircraft carrier and that's how our relationship started."

Both companies have stayed in their families. A.K. Velan's son Tom is now the Velan Valve President. And Hawkins-Hamilton has passed from grandfather, to son, to grandson. Williams told us he recalls a childhood of hearing about and learning the family business.

Velan is one of the leading valve manufacturers, and produces valves that range in size from something you can hold in your hand, to something several times the height of a man standing.

Those valves are critical all over the U.S.S. Ford. Explained Williams, "The Nimitz class carriers and the new Ford class are propelled by nuclear propulsion. So there's a nuclear reactor on the ship. So the valves are controlling what goes on within the nuclear reactor."

It will be years before construction of the U.S.S. Ford is finished. But when it's set to sea in 2019, it will carry the life's work of these families along with it.

And there's another Richmond connection to the ship. About 1200 of Newport News Shipbuilding's 23,000 employees are from the greater Richmond area.