Existing industries get local boosters

By Jonathan Shugarts, Republican-American

WATERTOWN - Although state legislators are touting tax breaks to attract new types of industries to Connecticut, some say more help should be given to exsisting manufacturers.

Sen. Robert J. Kane, R-Watertown, and Rep. Sean J. Williams, R-Watertown, hosted a forum for local business leaders Thursday at the Siemon Realty Co.

About 15 people attended, voicing their concerns on the local economy and what the state can do to help boost growth.

"We spend a lot of our time trying to fend off bills that would be bad for business," William said.

The state could offer tax incentives to nanotechnology companies to encourage growth within the fledgling industry, Kane said. Those kinda of breaks would be similar to what the state has offered film production companies.

But "sexy" programs that give tax breaks to those industries don't address the needs of the state's existing manufacturers, said Jack E. Traver, Jr., vice president of Traver Electric Motor Co. in Waterbury.

"They ignore the business that's working hard to stay here," Traver said.

Waterbury's brass industry boomed for decades, as did spring manufacturing in Bristol, Travers said. Now, the companies that remain in those towns struggle to survive.

"All of these companies are trying to survive," Travers said. "There are no tax incentives to help these businesses."

New students aren't training to enter the manufacturing field, and the current work force is aging, Traver said. But there are jobs in metal fabrication that pay about $80,000 a year, he said.

The problem is the legislature isn't doing enough to help industries that have historically compromised the backbone of the state's economy.

"We need the legislators' help to get a focus on this exodus," he said.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the town's unemployment rate was 4.4 percent in 2007, an increase from 3.9 percent in 2006.

In 2007, the Timken Co., an automotive steering assembly manufacturer, was the town's largest employer with 505 employees, which was down from 700 employees in 1998, according to the town's financial report.

Eyelematic Manufacturing, a plastic molding, metal fabrication and assembly company, also reduced its staff from 203 in 1998 to 180 in 2007.

Kane is attempting to have the business entity tax repealed, which taxes businesses $250 each year. Cutting the tax would help small businesses, he said.

"We get taxed for turning the key and opening the door," Kane said. "It's absolutely rediculous."