As he strolled through the state Capitol's North Lobby for Manufacturing Innovation Day on May 21, state Sen. Henri Martin (R-Bristol) was drawn to a hometown institution.
More than 30 Connecticut manufacturers were showcasing their products and processes, including two from his district, Bauer Inc., and the Barnes Group.
"I got introduced to 3D printing today," Martin said. "It's fascinating."
He was also invited to tour Barnes' operations on Bristol's Main Street.
"I grew up knowing about Barnes my whole life and I haven't been to one of their facilities, so I'm really looking forward to the experience," he said.
As Martin stopped by the Bauer booth, Mark Auletta, vice president of operations, told him how well things have been going there.
"We were discussing our growth at Bauer over the last few years and the fact that we've hired 10 people since the beginning of the year so business is good," Auletta said.
Manufacturing's Economic Power
Manufacturing has a huge impact on Connecticut, employing more than 160,000 people while generating over $28 billion in annual economic activity.
But the purpose of Manufacturing Innovation Day is to emphasize to lawmakers that what they do has an equally huge impact on manufacturing, a major driver of Connecticut's economy.
"All we want is just some support from government, for businesses like ours," Auletta said.
With Gov. Ned Lamont poised to sign a bill that will raise the hourly minimum wage to $15 and lawmakers set to pass paid family and medical leave, it hasn't been the best legislative session for manufacturers, particularly small businesses.
Still, that didn't dampen the pride or enthusiasm of the manufacturers who gathered to show off their wares.
"It's fantastic to be able to show legislators what manufacturers in Connecticut not only do, but the products they make and what it means to the Connecticut economy," said Chris DiPentima, president of Middletown-based Pegasus Manufacturing.
"It's been a tough session. We have some, I'll say, anti-business bills out there that we're all worried about—paid family and medical leave, minimum wage—so we're trying to communicate our message that we've just got to continue supporting manufacturing in Connecticut, the second-largest industry we have."
"It’s important for legislators and the public to see all the great companies and manufacturers producing goods that drive our economy," said Rep. David Yaccarino (R-North Haven).
"Ulbrich Steel, Miller Foods, and so many great companies that produce great products but also provide high-paying jobs that pay taxes to the state of Connecticut.
"Legislators should look at this and learn."‘
Rep. Jonathan Steinberg (D-Westport) found it reassuring to see so many successful manufacturers, including smaller ones.
"It's good to see we're doing some things right, creating an ecosystem, an environment where these companies can prosper," Steinberg said.
"But it's also important for me to find out what else we can do for manufacturing."
Sen. Kevin Witkos (R-Canton) was hopeful that lawmakers will understand that some proposals being considered this year will harm businesses
"Some of the bills still being contemplated, hopefully we can kill these bills because they're only going to hurt these businesses and their bottom line," he said.
Visitors got to see materials produced by Curtis Packaging of Sandy Hook, taste the tortellini from South Windsor-based Carla's Pasta, and bring home a treat for their four-legged friend from Miller Foods/Oma's Pride of Avon.
"I hope that all legislators pay attention and focus on ways that can make our state more friendly to business so these companies can stay, and grow, and thrive," said Rep. Laura Devlin (R-Fairfield).
Before manufacturers showcased their products in the North Lobby, CBIA president and CEO Joe Brennan welcomed a large crowd in the Capitol's Old Judiciary Room.
Despite the anti-business bills, Brennan said things are looking up for manufacturing, especially considering the collaboration he's seeing between the public and private sectors.
"We really are breaking down silos," Brennan said. "Everybody is coming together to try to advance manufacturing."
Marty Guay, vice president of business development for Stanley Black & Decker, said the company believes Connecticut can become a worldwide center for advanced manufacturing.
"We want Connecticut to be the center of the advanced manufacturing world," he said. "And we need smart, talented people to make that happen."
Capri Frank of Miller Foods/Oma's Pride said Manufacturing Innovation Day is always a learning experience for her.
"It’s an opportunity to talk about what we do and learn about other companies," she said.
"Seeing people wanting to stay engaged and involved with what we are doing here in Connecticut and learning about some of the legislative issues I don't always keep up on, it's a great day."
But the key is getting legislators to understand that the laws they pass can have a negative impact on an industry that drives our economy.
"I think that putting a face and a business to the actual message really brings it to life a little bit more," said Rep. Stephanie Cummings (R-Waterbury).
"When legislators can actually see business that's in their district, in their community, that's hiring their constituents, I think the message is a little clearer.
"You can see the work they do and, if they leave, the kind of business they'll be taking with them."