PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — Eastern Shipbuilding company has thrown their hat in the ring to be awarded the contract for the next phase of the U.S. Coast Guard Offshore Patrol Cutter program.

The local company was awarded the contract for the first phase back in 2016 and Sen. Marco Rubio is also pushing for them to build the next batch of cutters.

The next phase includes 10 cutters which amounts to about 15 to 20 years of work.

“There’s a lot at stake for us as a shipyard and I think our approach to date has been to lead by example — right? So not just to make promises, but to keep them,” said Eastern Shipbuilding President, Joey D’Isernia.

Sen. Rubio paid a visit to Eastern Shipbuilding on Wednesday and said it is stunning to see the progress they have made on the cutter.

He said he is impressed with the fact the vessel is more than halfway finished despite facing challenges from Hurricane Michael and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rubio said Eastern Shipbuilding has an advantage when it comes to experience and facilities.

“There’s no place in the country that can do this,” Rubio said. “And the jobs it’s creating what it means to this community what it means to this part of Florida is incredible so I think you know now as they’re bidding — as they’re involved in a competition — with a bunch of other companies for the next phase of this project, there’s no place in the country that can argue that they have their own stand-alone facility dedicated to doing this and they can prove they’ve done it.”

Rubio said he is passionate about the project for two reasons: the Coast Guard and the State of Florida.

“People don’t realize how much we put on the coast guard,” Rubio said. “They interdict drugs, they save people’s lives, boaters go out there and get in trouble and they’re out there saving them so they’ve got a tremendous responsibility. The other is what it means for Florida. It’s not just the contract it’s the kind of jobs that it’s creating. This is creating good-paying jobs that people can be trained to do when they’re 17, 18, 19 years old.”

Sen. Rubio said he wants to see more ships built in Florida and adds it is one of his top priorities in Washington.