One of the only Black-owned ship repair businesses in the U.S. expanded to Portsmouth as part of plans to meet the requirements necessary to complete major repairs for Navy vessels.

Suffolk-based Mills Marine and Ship Repair opened a 1.2-acre fabrication and training facility off Victory Boulevard on Thursday. The facility  includes a classroom and training space as well a 57,000-square-foot outdoor area for making various ship components.

“It has not been easy, but it has been worth it,” said Donald Mills, company president and general manager.

Surrounded by huge hunks of metal and safety posters in the new training facility, Mills and other employees celebrated the opening with city, military and other officials.

Mayor Shannon Glover welcomed the company to the city and also acknowledged Portsmouth’s maritime industry.

“We are a blue-collar community and we are proud of it,” Glover said.

Since opening on Feb. 22, 2012, the company has grown from just a handful of employees to more than 100, Mills said. Around 10 of them will work in the Portsmouth facility. Mills declined to reveal how much was spent on the new facility, but said it was a significant investment.

The facility is one of the last steps toward the company being allowed to work on major Navy ship repairs later this year, Mills said. It will fulfill a requirement in an agreement with Naval Sea Systems Command that Mills plans to finalize by this summer.

Donald Mills, president of Mills Marine & Ship Repair during his remarks at a dedication ceremony Thursday morning at the company’s location on Beechdale Road in Portsmouth. (Bill Tiernan / For The Virginian-Pilot)

Depending on the awarded contracts, Mills said he hopes to hire 20 to 40 more people.

Mills, who has around three decades of experience in the maritime industry, said the biggest challenges to his business had revolved around access to capital and meeting the stringent requirements for contracting work, rather than the color of his skin.

“Once you get the opportunity, then you have to perform,” Mills said.

During the event, Mills said he hoped to use the expansion to help hire formerly incarcerated people — skilled workers who might otherwise experience hiring challenges obtaining security clearances.

Since its inception, Mills Marine and Ship Repair has been awarded around $8.6 million in federal contracts, according to

Trevor Metcalfe, 757-222-5345,