The last thing that Chris DiPentima, president of Pegasus Manufacturing in Middletown, wants is more government.
Nonetheless, DiPentima appeared before the state legislature's Manufacturing Caucus Jan. 29 and urged lawmakers to expand government—if only by one position.
"We don't need to grow government," DiPentima said, "but we do need someone to own manufacturing in the state of Connecticut."
That's why he, and representatives of the state's major manufacturing organizations—now aligned under the new Connecticut Manufacturers' Collaborative—are calling on the governor and the legislature to create a cabinet-level manufacturing secretary post.
"Manufacturing is 11% of our GDP and 10% of our state's employment," DiPentima said.
"We need a single voice on the government side to help us solve the many fragmented problems we have here."
Among other things, the secretary could eliminate redundancy and waste in the many training programs the state offers manufacturers.
"We're facing a huge challenge in education right now," Glenn Ford, president of Enfield-based Phoenix Manufacturing, said of the growing need for employees skilled in robotics, artificial intelligence, mechatronics, and other evolving technologies.
"We need to think differently about education if we're going to meet this challenge.
We don't need to grow government, but we do need someone to own manufacturing.
Lucia Furman of Mercantile Development of Shelton, a third-generation, woman-owned business, called for an expansion of successful programs that help manufacturers find skilled workers and redirect or eliminate less successful programs.
This would be among the responsibilities of the manufacturing secretary, she said.
"Please know that the manufacturing community enthusiastically supports these specific, well-designed, metric-driven programs," said Furman, whose company employs just under 50 people.
Expanding Apprenticeship Programs
Todd Berch, director of the Department of Labor's Office of Apprenticeship Training, said the goal is to expand the various successful apprenticeship programs the state offers manufacturers.
"We do need to bring these opportunities to scale due to the fact that the three major defense contractors in the state and their entire supply chains have long-term contracts ahead of them and need workers," he said.
Berch said the low unemployment rate makes it harder to find workers.
That's why his office is meeting with school superintendents and state education officials to push more career technical education in high schools.
"Career readiness and college education now need to be equal to one another as opposed to one being greater than the other," Berch said.
'Change the Narrative'
Paul Murphy agreed, saying manufacturing needs to overcome the false narrative that it’s a dirty business.
"What does success really look like?" asked Murphy, executive director of Aerospace Components Manufacturers, which consists of 105 companies with $3.2 billion in annual sales.
"Is it after a person leaves high school, then five years later they've got a degree, $130,000 in debt and a $40,000 job?
We must change the narrative—that it's cool to work with your hands as well as your mind.
Murphy noted that manufacturing is a well-paying career.
"We're talking about engineers who are making six figures," he said. "We're talking about machinists who come in and earn $60,000 to $80,000 a year."
"We must change the narrative—that it's cool to work with your hands as well as your mind," added Berch.
Impact of Workplace Mandates
Caucus members asked manufacturers about the potential impacts of a minimum wage hike, paid family and medical leave, and recreational marijuana.
DiPentima said that as a manufacturer, he's concerned with the impact of a $15 minimum wage on the workforce pipeline.
"If a kid in Hartford can make $15 working at a Dunkin' Donuts around the corner, then he or she won't make the trip to Middletown to work in my facility for a career—let alone to manufacturers less centrally located," he said.
The prospect of paid family and medical leave also has manufacturers, especially smaller ones, concerned.
"I have no idea how we're going to deal with it," Furman said.
"I'm going to have to hire someone to figure it all out—and we have a hard enough time finding people to run our machines."
And if the state approves recreational marijuana, it could impact manufacturers that do federal defense work.
"I'm probably going to have to lay off one-third of my workforce," DiPentima said. "I have federal requirements to do drug testing.
"Everything in Connecticut affects manufacturing."