WALLINGFORD, CT — It’s a fourth generation company that manufactures metal for everything from nuclear reactors to medical devices and there’s not a lot it needs from the state in terms of incentives to stay.
Ulbrich, which has 350 employees in Connecticut, and operates in multiple states and countries is just six years shy of celebrating its 100 year anniversary. Most of its employees have been with the company for 25 years, but many have been with the company for longer.
It mostly does on-the-job training so it doesn’t need to take advantage of any state apprenticeship programs and it’s so diversified that’s its top customer only accounts for three percent of its revenues.
What about the corporation tax?
It’s not an issue for the company. The corporate tax rate is low for them because they can offset most of it and the workers’ compensation reforms Connecticut implemented over a decade ago are working.
Getting rid of the corporation tax, estate tax, and the personal income tax is central to Republican Bob Stefanowski’s campaign platform.
Lowering the tax burden was welcomed by the company that believes lowering the tax burden would help its employees thrive.
So what could the next governor do to help?
Lower the cost of healthcare. That’s what Chris Ulbrich, chairman and CEO of Ulbrich, told Stefanowski Monday on a tour of its Wallingford facility.
“The Yale and Hartford monopoly just clobber us,” Ulbrich said of the two largest healthcare systems in the state.
Ulbrich said he doesn’t know what the best solution is for rising healthcare costs.
“There’s a lack of options,” Stefanowski said of Connecticut’s health insurance market.
There are six insurance companies offering health insurance plans in Connecticut. A majority or 86 percent of Connecticut residents have large group employer plans, 8 percent have small group plans and 6 percent have individual plans, which can be purchased either on or off the health insurance exchange.
“I’d love to have the company have more options so they have more profitability so they may be able to cover more of the healthcare costs,” Stefanowski said. “Again, I think to get this economy moving, I don’t think it’s more taxes.”
However, he didn’t necessarily offer Ulbrich a solution for the high cost of healthcare.
Ulbrich said it costs 20 percent more for an employee to give birth in Connecticut than it does in Illinois or South Carolina where they also have factories.
In a follow up conversation Stefanowski offered more specifics on lowering the cost of healthcare. He said the cost of health insurance has gone up 46 percent over the last decade “due to tax increases on medical providers and hospitals.” He said drug prices are also responsible for the increase.
He suggested Connecticut explore a federal waiver for the individual and small group market where there are even fewer health insurance companies participating and review some of the mandated coverage Connecticut requires.
Earlier this year, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed into law a bill that would mandate certain “essential benefits” be covered even if the Affordable Care Act disappeared.
Specifically the new law requires coverage of the essential health benefits such as emergency care and hospitalization, prescription drugs, maternity and newborn care, mental health services, managing chronic diseases, and comprehensive coverage for children. It also requires some plan to provide preventative services for women, children and adolescents at no cost, but it doesn’t not require coverage of pre-existing conditions.
Stefanowski said he would not cut funding for mental health or substance abuse programs, especially during the growing opioid epidemic.
Stefanowski, who is new to Connecticut politics, has struggled to grasp all the issues that face the state. Some of that is because he’s not participating in public financing and doesn’t have the luxury of delving into the issues because he has to be on the phone asking people for money.
But Stefanowski has no regrets about that decision.
“I don’t think it’s right for taxpayers to be paying for political campaigns,” Stefanowski said Monday. He said he enjoys talking to voters on the campaign trail and visiting businesses more than he likes fundraising, but he doesn’t have the resources.
“I’ve gotta spend half my day raising money,” Stefanowski said.
Ned Lamont, his Democratic opponent, also isn’t using public financing. However, Lamont’s pockets are deeper and he has given another $5 million to his campaign bringing his total up to $8 million.
But even Stefanowski’s supporters will admit being CEO of Connecticut requires knowledge about more than just the state budget. However, they believe he will get there.
There were a parade of employees who wanted to meet Stefanowski Monday during the tour. They all thanked him for proposing lower taxes and wished him well.
Sometimes Stefanowski is able to deflect on certain topics like he did on the issue of climate change Sunday during a gubernatorial forum in which the audience was able to ask whatever question they wanted.
Asked what he planned to do about climate change, Stefanowski said “I don’t understand the science of it, but there’s enough data points to know that there is a problem.”
He said the federal government has more of an impact on climate policy than the state. Then he pivoted back to the economy.
“I’ll be honest I get some criticism for this. I’m focused on what we can do for the state of Connecticut,” he said.
On Monday, he changed the topic from healthcare to transportation.
Stefanowski suggested keeping tolls off the road would also help Ulbrich, which transports its products by truck.
Lamont has proposed tolling only out-of-state tractor trailer trucks.
“What would tolls do to you?” Stefanowski asked Ulbrich.
“I’m not sure,” Ulbrich said. “I think just rebalancing the taxes. We need money, spending it wisely.”
Ulbrich said the two tax increases in 2011 and 2015 are “forever” and “we’re still $2 billion in debt. Where’s it all going?”
Despite Connecticut’s current fiscal situation, Ulbrich has no plans on leaving. In fact it’s expanding and adding a $7.7 million mill at the back of its property in Wallingford.
Ulbrich has a plant in South Carolina, but moving to South Carolina is not going to improve the company’s bottomline.
“You can’t find people in the woods of South Carolina,” Ulbrich said.
Stefanowski said Ulbrich is a great example of what a family-owned business can do.
“They’ve been able to put up with the higher taxes,” Stefanowski said.
But he said he thinks they can do a lot to make their lives easier.
This isn’t specific to Ulbrich, but Stefanowski said he hears a lot from the manufacturing industry about the need for skilled labor.
There are about 13,600 job openings in Connecticut manufacturing, and even though the state has beefed up its community college training programs and increased its tax credits, there’s no way they will all be filled.
Connecticut is home to more than 4,000 manufacturers who employ 159,000 employees. That means that nearly one of every 10 Connecticut workers is employed in the manufacturing sector, but the demand for those skills continues to accelerate as many in the workforce are headed for retirement.