While Connecticut has a long history of reaching for the stars when it comes to expanding the state’s aerospace and naval manufacturing industries, it’s now in line to receive a potential boost from the federal government.
Seeking to “revolutionize [Connecticut’s] aerospace and shipbuilding industries,” the U.S. Commerce Department, under their “Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership” program, will help the state file for financial support.
The state’s “Advanced Manufacturing Communities Region,” an eight county area centered on Hartford, was one of 12 communities to receive federal designation.
While the department does not plan on directly allocating funding toward the manufacturing industry, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker said Wednesday that the designation would “show potential investors that these are good places to invest money.”
According to Pritzker, there are 11 federal agencies with more than $1 billion in economic development funds standing at the ready to aid the selected regions. Each of the 12 communities will work alongside a federal liaison to implement the strategic plans they submitted to the Commerce Department.
Prtizker said she believed these localized, homegrown plans to be some of the best ways to use the “precious few federal dollars” the country has to invest.
“It’s the definition, in my mind, of smart government at work,” Pritzker said on a conference call with reporters.
Connecticut’s plan focuses on the aerospace and shipbuilding industries, with special attention to workforce, supply chain, and innovation.
The current plan dictates that, in order to increase and economize supplier networks, stakeholders will follow a model created by the Aerospace Components Manufacturers Association to ensure Connecticut has one of “the most cost-effective and productive aerospace locations in the world.”
Additionally, the plan includes acquiring “assets” from the federal government in an attempt to expand innovation among the industries, implementing more environmentally friendly practices, and using $1.8 billion in transportation infrastructure funding.
“This designations gives us a leg up. It puts us at the top of queue for these federal pots of money and makes it more likely that we get access to these funds,” Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Catherine Smith said. “It’s a seal of approval that says ‘We like their plan.’”
Smith said the plan was designed with the input of the business community, universities, the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology, and other relevant parties.
She also said that the timeline of the plan may take two to three years for some initiatives, and that more details, as well as the projected costs, would be available soon.
The region is currently focused on growing aerospace technologies and submarine manufacturing, financing technology upgrades and workforce training for smaller companies, and curbing energy costs and carbon emissions for energy-intensive manufacturing.
“They’ll maximize return on investment to the local community and encourage companies to take a more thoughtful, comprehensive approach to strategic plans,” Pritzker said of all the communities’ development plans.
The Secretary continued to vouch for the partnership, which accepted its first round of applicants last year. She said that the aerospace manufacturing industry in southwest Ohio secured $20 million in federal investment since receiving the designation.
The Ohio industry already created more than 25,000 new jobs and attracted new private sector commitments totaling $500 million since partnering with the government, Pritzker said.
Like Ohio, the aerospace industry is part of Connecticut’s economy. Large-scale manufacturing is the third largest industry in the state, and the aerospace industry has been one of the state’s priorities for the past century. Driven by major manufacturers Pratt & Whitney, Hamilton Sundstrand, and Sikorsky Aerospace, the industry holds over 100 aerospace companies within Connecticut.
However, the state’s efforts to focus on small manufacturers and the industry’s next generation have been more recent.
In 2014, the General Assembly passed a bill establishing a $30-million Connecticut Manufacturing Innovation Fund. Administered by the DECD, the fund is meant to help small manufacturers keep pace with the industry by assisting them with equipment, research and development, and training.
“Over the next few years, Connecticut’s small manufacturers are going to be asked to increase their production to meet the needs of larger companies,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who first proposed the funding in H.B. 5041, said in a statement.
Other efforts to expand the sector include the Advanced Manufacturing Centers Initiative, an attempt to foster the next generation of aerospace and naval manufacturers by providing training and resources at the community college and educational level. A 2013 report on the initiative disclosed the construction of three new Manufacturing Centers — all modeled after the center located within Asnuntuck Community College — at the Housatonic, Naugatuck Valley, and Quinebaug Valley community colleges.
Connecticut has an expected annual growth rate of 6.25 percent with an annual job growth of 205 by 2020, the report says.
“Thanks to concerted efforts among our community colleges, companies, officials, and workforce board, Eastern Connecticut’s Manufacturing Pipeline is delivering workers with top-quality training and skills to our region’s advanced manufacturers,” U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, said. “[The] companies in the submarine supply chain need a workforce with the skills to produce some of the most advanced submarines in the world, and as demand grows, this strategy will continue to pay dividends for our state’s economy.”
According to White House National Economic Council Deputy Director Jason Miller, expanding and training upcoming aerospace and naval manufacturers is a major focus.
“We need to continue to strengthen community colleges and workforce training so our workforce has a chance to compete,” Miller said.
This round of acceptances will be the last for the foreseeable future, Pritzker said. Forty regions applied this round, including the 12 that received the partnership designation.