The following article was first published by the Hartford Business Journal.


Eric Brown

Q&A talks with Eric Brown, vice president of manufacturing policy and outreach at CBIA, about the major issues facing the state's manufacturing industry in 2020.

What will be the main story line for Connecticut's manufacturing industry in 2020?

The key for making significant progress on workforce, technology, and other challenges facing manufacturers generally, will be the ability of the government, education leaders, nonprofits, and private sector to work together in a collaborative and strategic manner—with a real sense of urgency.

The appointment of the new chief manufacturing officer and the creation of the Governor's Workforce Council are two strong indicators that the administration is committed to accomplishing this goal.

But the array of stakeholders playing in this space is enormously broad. So, I believe the overarching manufacturing story lines in 2020 will flow from how well we can meet this challenge.

What are two other major issues that will impact manufacturing in 2020?

A significant portion of state assistance for manufacturing workforce and technology over the past decade has come through a variety of programs administered through the Manufacturing Innovation Fund. The original $75 million of funding is almost gone, and it is unclear what will become of the highest-value programs.

The $75 million was provided through state bonding. With the administration's emphasis on cutting the state's bonded indebtedness, it is unclear what, if any, further bonded funding will be available in the future.

Finding a sustainable, reliable funding mechanism to assist manufacturers broadly evolve into the fourth industrial revolution is critical.

A second major frontier is changing the mindset of parents, students and others with respect to careers in manufacturing. We are still suffering from the huge misperception that manufacturing is a low-skill, low-wage, dirty job primarily for folks who can't go to college.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Manufacturing is an amazing career where imagination, creativity, problem-solving, and technical skills all come together to provide high-paying, professionally satisfying careers with almost infinite opportunities for advancement and career innovation.

What state legislative issues will be top of mind for manufacturers in 2020?

I believe the legislature will be called upon to support comprehensive recommendations put forward by the chief manufacturing officer and Governor's Workforce Council.

In addition, organizations such as CBIA and the Connecticut Manufacturers' Collaborative will be working with the legislature's Manufacturing Caucus to make Connecticut a more attractive place for private investment in manufacturing.

How will the Trump administration's trade war impact Connecticut manufacturers in 2020? Is there anything local producers can do to mitigate the impact?

National policy on trade affects different companies differently.

Affected companies are exploring alternatives in terms of materials, suppliers, and the location of supply chain manufacturing. And they are communicating with their congressional representatives to push for quick resolutions.

Many companies have long been negatively impacted by trade practices implemented by other countries. It remains to be seen whether that will change in 2020. In the meantime, as always, manufacturers continue to innovate.

How will the new chief manufacturing officer position affect the industry in 2020?

The appointment of Colin Cooper as the state's CMO has already instilled great hope and optimism within the manufacturing community.

For the first time, they are confident of progress knowing they have a strong and knowledgeable advocate within state government.

They are especially hopeful that this new approach will result in breaking down administrative and funding silos and get the entire manufacturing ecosystem in Connecticut working more strategically on key priorities.