Manufacturers Optimistic but Watching the Legislative Clouds

Despite challenges that include a persistently slow economy, Connecticut manufacturers are still optimistic about the future-especially if state lawmakers work to help them achieve their potential.

At today's Manufacturing & Technology Day at the State Capitol more than 40 Connecticut companies dazzled state lawmakers and other officials with their array of products and services.

They came to the Capitol to show how very alive and well manufacturing is in Connecticut and to find out what the legislature is doing to help them get through a very rough economic stretch.

Before opening their exhibits at 11 am, manufacturing execs packed a room at the Capitol to hear some good-and some not-so good-news. Richard Wheeler, chair, CBIA Manufacturers Advisory Council and president, Capewell Components Co. LLC, moderated the meeting.

Enormous Potential

On the good side, DECD Commissioner Catherine Smith talked about how manufacturing is one of the pillars of Gov. Malloy's economic development strategy and the administration believes it has "enormous potential for future growth in Connecticut."

She described recent efforts coming out of Connecticut's participation on the National Governors Association advanced manufacturing initiative. Those efforts include making Connecticut a more business-friendly state, increase the connectivity between manufacturers and the higher education system, and develop a steady stream of skilled workers.

One of the results was the creation of the legislature's bipartisan Manufacturing Caucus.

The caucus has been instrumental in shepherding through the legislative process a bill designed to help address one of manufacturers' biggest needs-developing new talent. Now awaiting action in the Senate, SB 1079 will increase the tax credit for apprenticeship training by 50%. The caucus has also endorsed several other positive measures.

Problem Legislation

But manufacturers also heard about some very harmful legislative proposals:

  • SB 907, which effectively takes away an employer's ability to manage its workers' compensation program and provide the best and most cost-effective medical treatment.
  • SB 1082, Sections 2 and 3 of which will greatly expand DEEP's current program for reporting and addressing imminent environmental hazards into a historic spill reporting program, and overwhelm the agency with hundreds (if not thousands) of new properties into their already overburdened and cumbersome cleanup programs.
  • HB 6553, creates a task force that's charged with developing a way to provide compensation to individuals who are taking FMLA time.
  • HB 6667, that overturns state law protecting employers' ability to manage their workplaces and the communications made by employees while on the job.

The state budget is also a major concern because current proposals increase state spending by 10% over the next two years and change the spending cap to accomplish that.

Still, the mood was upbeat throughout the meeting that kicked off the day's activities.

Additive Manufacturing

A panel discussion focused on an exciting technology that's transforming manufacturing and carries significant potential for Connecticut.

Agnes Chau Klucha, engineering manager, Engineering Integrated Solutions Group, Pratt & Whitney, discussedPratt & Whitney's advancements in additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, and the company's new collaboration with UConn.

Klucha, who led Pratt's efforts in setting up one of the nation's most advanced additive manufacturing centers in UConn's Technology Park, said that additive manufacturing "offers the opportunity for the next revolution in manufacturing in America."

Additive manufacturing, she said, is the process of joining materials to make objects using 3D model data in a layer-by-layer process.

3D printing can deliver products more quickly, on demand, at less cost, with less waste and a smaller carbon footprint than traditional manufacturing methods.

She and Kevin Dyer, President, InterPRO LLC, both recalled how President Obama in his State of the Union speech said that 3D printing "has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything."

They said that 3D printing is being used to produce a wide variety of objects on a just-in-time basis, from aerospace components to automotive parts to jewelry and hand tools.

Dyer said that with 3D printing, "The very idea of a factory is changing."

That was clear as Jeff Burchard, technology consultant, Advanced Educational Technologies (AET), showed a 3D printer the size of a dormitory refrigerator and the numerous component parts it has created.

With the inroads of major manufacturers like Pratt, small businesses like InterPRO and the collaborations with the education system they are making, Connecticut can play an even bigger part in the advanced manufacturing revolution.

Legislative Presence

Also of note was an impressive showing of members from the Manufacturing Caucus, including Sen. L. Scott Frantz (R-Riverside), Sen. Tony Guglielmo (R-Stafford Springs), Sen. Gary LeBeau (D-East Hartford), Sen. Art Linares (R-Westbrook), Sen. Mike McLachlan (R-Danbury), Rep. Tim Larson (D-East Hartford), Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-Wilton), Rep. Selim Noujaim (R-Waterbury), Rep. Jonathan Steinberg (D-Westport), Rep. Christopher Wright (D-Bristol), and Rep. Elissa Wright (D-Groton).

Then, after the meeting, dozens of state lawmakers made their way through the packed exhibit hall to learn more about Connecticut's manufacturing companies and the challenges they face in competing today.

Manufacturing and Technology Day was sponsored by CBIA, with partner organizations Aerospace Components Manufacturers, Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology Inc., CONNSTEP, Connecticut Technology Council, Connecticut Tooling and Machining Association, Connecticut United for Research Excellence, Manufacturing Association of Connecticut, Metal Manufacturers' Education and Training Alliance (METAL), New England Spring & Metalstamping Association, New Haven Manufacturers Association, and Smaller Manufacturers Association of Connecticut.