Hugh McQuaid photo
U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy (Hugh McQuaid photo)

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy joined U.S. Senator Chris Murphy on Tuesday to announce the launch of a compact aimed at guiding Connecticut’s congressional delegation on federal policy that will benefit Connecticut manufacturing.

Murphy said with over 200,000 manufacturing jobs added back the U.S. economy since the bottom of the recession, he wants to know what has to be done to increase the proportion of manufacturing jobs growing in Connecticut. The compact – which consists of small manufacturing groups, environmental groups, the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), other labor groups, and workforce investment boards – will meet through the summer and provide its final suggestions by the end of 2013.

Murphy said the broad range of member groups, including business and labor groups that are often at odds policy-wise, would bring “common sense bipartisanship” that would be essential for legislative action in a gridlocked Congress.

“If we can get employers and employees, workforce groups and worker groups all together on a set of ideas, that package should be sellable to both Republicans and Democrats in Washington,” Murphy said.

He added some of the more controversial topics, such as free trade, would not be included in discussions, but the group would focus on changes in workforce laws, improving minority outreach, methods of bolstering and educating the manufacturing workforce, means of lowering energy costs, and ways to increase Connecticut’s exports.

“We don’t have enough help for the small or medium size manufacturers [that populate Connecticut] who want to export,” Murphy said. “We’ve doubled exports here in this state, but in order to double it again over the next several years the federal government needs to step up to the plate and help as well.”

He added that federal tax policy disincentivizes investments in new technology and rewards companies with “big enough accounting offices that can deal with the complexity” of the tax code.

Malloy said manufacturing, which employs 11 percent of the state’s workers, is a key component of Connecticut’s economy, and policymakers need to focus on training the state’s youth in this field so that jobs can be filled as workers retire.

“Manufacturing accounts for over $25 billion in total manufacturing output in the state and close to 12 percent of our gross domestic product,” Malloy said, adding that Connecticut manufacturers earn an average salary of $85,000 per year. “We need to make a commitment to training replacement workforce.”

Malloy pointed his proposed $2 billion Next Generation Connecticut fund that would aim to strengthen education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields at the University of Connecticut as a means by which he has attempted to develop a better-educated workforce.

“This is not your granddaddy’s manufacturing,” Malloy said. “We need to make sure we have all of the skillset available in our state and that we’re doing everything in our power to make sure we’re properly preparing our workforce.”

Hugh McQuaid photo
CBIA CEO John Rathgeber, (Hugh McQuaid photo)

Members of the compact – including CBIA CEO John Rathgeber, and John Harrity, president of the Connecticut State Council of Machinists—agreed that making manufacturing an attractive career and reforming education in STEM fields is essential to achieving their goals.

“These are good jobs that pay better than average and kids can make a career out of these jobs,” Harrity said. “We have to make stuff in order to have a fundamentally good economy, and I’m confident now that leadership gets that.”

Cathy Awwad of the Northwest Regional Workforce Investment Board and a member of the compact said one of the group’s challenges would be finding ways to make manufacturing appealing to a highly-educated younger generation.

“It’s very important in manufacturing specifically to educate middle schoolers and high schoolers about the high-paying high-skilled jobs available in manufacturing,” Awwad said. “We’re faced with an uphill battle in changing the perception of manufacturing statewide. The current workforce needs to continue to train to bring the new skills that are required.”

Hugh McQuaid photo
John Harrity, president of the Connecticut State Council of Machinists (Hugh McQuaid photo)

According to an economic forecast released by the New England Economic Partnership last week, Connecticut lost 2,600 manufacturing jobs from February 2012 to February 2013. Edward Deak, the chair of the economics department at Fairfield University and author of Connecticut’s forecast, said the job loss is largely due to the federal sequester.

“Connecticut’s manufacturing is largely defense-related,” Deak said. “Job growth is dependent on the extent that federal contracts change.”

He said Connecticut will be one of the top five states most affected by the federal sequester and in order to avoid potentially catastrophic impacts on Connecticut’s manufacturing, the state needs to develop manufacturing in other areas.

“[The effects] can be avoided to the extent that new technology is applied to non-defense,” Deak said, pointing to additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, as one of the areas the sector should focus on. “[The state’s] manufacturers can develop innovative products, medical instruments, computer parts, new circuit boards…Additive printing allows new prototypes and products to be developed faster and respond to national demand quicker.”

Deak said Connecticut is currently “on par” with rest of the country in terms of developing additive manufacturing and developing tomorrow’s workforce is an important component of growing the industry. However, he said many of the problems facing manufacturing need to be addressed by legislation on the state level.

“The lack of business friendliness in Connecticut created by the state’s high cost of living and the myriad of rules and regulations for expanding or starting new businesses will hinder the manufacturing sector’s growth,” Deak said.