Gov. Ned Lamont has appointed veteran aerospace executive Colin Cooper as Connecticut's first chief manufacturing officer.
Lamont introduced Cooper, a successful manufacturing entrepreneur, CEO, and aerospace design engineer at an Oct. 21 press conference in North Haven.
"With the creation of this role and the selection of someone who has decades of experience leading a very successful business, every manufacturing company in Connecticut should know that they have a position in our administration and a seat at the table through Colin Cooper," Lamont said.
"Our future lies in our ability to help businesses quickly fill thousands of highly skilled, good-paying jobs, and I am determined to coordinate these efforts in a strategic way so that manufacturing companies who are already here can grow, and those from out of state that are looking to relocate will know that Connecticut is where they need to be.”
Cooper, 59, is a former design engineer at Pratt & Whitney and former CEO of the Whitcraft Group, a Connecticut manufacturer that supplies precision parts to many of the world's largest aerospace companies.
"Manufacturing has played a critical role in our state for over 200 years. We need to work to ensure that will continue well into the future," Cooper, who assumes his new role Oct. 30, said.
"I know firsthand the challenges of trying to grow a manufacturing company in Connecticut.
"I'm also acutely aware, though, of the strengths in our state, including a highly skilled and engaged workforce, proximity to customers and markets, a critical mass of banks and lenders who understand and support manufacturing, and an increasingly broad and deep array of academic institutions and programs designed to develop and support manufacturing."
Cooper said workforce development will be a top priority, noting that aerospace manufacturers alone have more than 1,000 well-paying, highly skilled positions to fill.
"And that story repeats itself across the different sectors," Cooper said.
"All of us are bottle-necked right now. We can't increase our output enough to meet the demand, and so if we can't meet that demand here in Connecticut, it's going to be someplace else. That demand will get met.
"Plus we've got a large number of mature workers who are looking to retire and we've got to make sure we replenish them, and that their knowledge gets handed down."
Although the state of Connecticut has many programs designed to help manufacturers, it lacks an overall coordinated strategy and point person to set goals, measure impacts, and ensure workforce demands are met.
That's why CBIA and the Connecticut Manufacturers' Collaborative pushed hard during the 2019 legislative session for a cabinet-level manufacturing position to coordinate public-private sector collaboration.
Although Cooper's position is based within the Department of Economic and Community Development, Lamont expects him to work with all state agencies, including education, and with manufacturers to meet their needs.
His responsibilities include:
- Defining strategic goals and objectives to advance manufacturing growth
- Ensuring state and federal investments to advance manufacturing are aligned with strategic goals and objectives
- Enhancing statewide coordination, collaboration, and partnership among public, private and nonprofit entities, including educational institutions
While Connecticut has struggled to recover jobs lost in the 2008-2010 recession, manufacturing has seen steady growth over the past two years, topping 161,000 jobs last month, a seven-year high.
DECD commissioner David Lehman said the manufacturing sector's multiplier effect was critical to the state's overall economy.
"For every job that's created in manufacturing, there's five to eight jobs created indirectly through suppliers," Lehman said.
"That is a multiplier effect that very few other industries have.
"So the more that we can have manufacturing jobs grow and strengthen here in the state, the more other jobs we're going to see, and the more economic growth and output we're going to have."
Eric Brown, CBIA's vice president for manufacturing policy and outreach, said the move is huge because it places "someone from the private sector into government to be a champion for industry."
"This is a really important event, not just for manufacturers but for Connecticut, because it shows that people are willing to take a chance, take a risk, and say, 'We can accomplish more if government and the private sector come together,'" Brown said.
Members of the legislature's bipartisan Manufacturing Caucus, including Sen. Joan Hartley (D-Waterbury), also attended Monday's announcement.
Hartley co-chairs the legislature's Commerce Committee, which earlier this year unanimously approved legislation creating the chief manufacturing officer position.
Manufacturers, she said, now have "one person who will be one voice" for the sector.