Kris Lorch, an industry trailblazer and long-time champion of Connecticut manufacturing, passed away April 29 at the age of 73.
A memorial service is planned for June to celebrate the lives of both Kris and her late husband Fred Lorch, who died in 2020. The couple is survived by daughters Kathryn Hastings and Sabrina Lorch.
Kris Lorch joined Bridgeport manufacturer Alloy Engineering Company, Inc. in 1986, purchasing the company with Fred in 1998, and leading it as president.
Throughout her personal and professional life, Lorch always challenged the status quo.
"Quitting was not in her vocabulary, and taking ‘no’ for an answer was not in her genes,” CBIA president and CEO Chris DiPentima said.
“I first met Kris at a CBIA meeting when she was in her mid 60s and was instantly won over by a spitfire who delivered her thoughts with so much passion balanced by intelligence.”
Kathy Saint, president and CEO of Bridgeport-based Schwerdtle Stamp Co., and a close friend of Lorch’s for over 25 years, agreed.
“Kris was fierce, she was tenacious, she was real,” Saint said.
“You knew exactly what you were getting when you talked to her, and at the same time she was one of the most kind, caring, thoughtful, and generous people I’ve ever met.”
Saint said Lorch was a leader and role model for women in manufacturing, recalling first seeing her as she addressed a room full of men.
Once Lorch spoke, “all the men started taking her seriously,” Saint said.
Saint immediately reached out to Lorch and the two formed a close bond.
“We were always together,” she said.
Lorch was a fierce advocate for hiring young women in the manufacturing sector.
While parents were initially skeptical of their daughters entering into the industry, Lorch fought hard to convince parents to let their daughters enter manufacturing and STEM careers.
The reason, Saint said, is that Lorch “was too smart and too tough to settle for not driving for what she was interested in, and she wanted the same for other women.”
One of Lorch’s passions was invigorating Connecticut’s technical high school system.
In particular, she worked on developing curriculum, expanding the technical school manufacturing programs throughout the state, and ensuring that each school received proper government and private sector support.
“The teachers always loved her because she was always fighting for their programs,” Saint said.
Lorch was a fixture at the state Capitol, participating in hearings and testifying whenever she could.
And when then Gov. Dannel Malloy attempted to shut down programs at the technical schools to merge them with the comprehensive high schools, Lorch “was one of the loudest voices fighting against that,” Saint said.
“She knew how good the jobs were,” she continued, “and she fought for the best of the best in the programs.”
She was instrumental in the launch of Southern Connecticut State University's Materials and Manufacturing Summer Institute Program, working with high school STEM teachers each summer to help connect their educational material to real-world skills.
“At a time when there were no community college manufacturing programs and no formal regional workforce partnerships, Kris understood that the growth of Connecticut’s manufacturing workforce would rely heavily on the technical high schools,” DiPentima said.
“Kris invested much of her time, energy, and financial resources into making sure the technical schools flourished as a strong partner for the manufacturing industry.”
Lorch served on the advisory boards for technical manufacturing programs at Platt Tech, Emmet O’Brien, Bullard Havens, and Eli Whitney.
She was a staunch advocate for collaboration, and was one of the original voices in the the New Haven Manufacturers Association (now ManufactureCT), which brought together manufacturers from the New Haven and Bridgeport areas to share best practices.
Lorch also championed the Connecticut Manufacturers' Collaborative.
"She pushed associations across the state to break down regional silos and help the Connecticut manufacturing community speak as one on the state level," DiPentima said.
As part of Housatonic Community College’s Industry Advisory Board, Lorch played a key role in establishing the Advanced Manufacturing Center.
She also served on the boards of the Bridgeport Chamber of Commerce, the Metal Manufacturers Education and Training Alliance, and ManufactureCT.
In 2015, Kris Lorch and Saint were joint winners of the American Manufacturing Hall of Fame's Leadership Award, recognized for "innovation, productivity, and sustainability."
When asked about Lorch’s legacy, Saint had one word: trailblazer.
"As kind, caring, and generous as she was, the thing that stood out to everybody is that she was a fighter, and she was always fighting for other people," she said.
“It was never about her. She had a successful company, and it wasn't really about anything she needed.
"She was always fighting for women and a woman’s place in the technical world and the world of manufacturing.
"I love her and I miss her, and I really hope that she'll be remembered."
DiPentima said Lorch “was passionate, energetic, intelligent, highly respected, and a champion among champions."
"She will be missed," he said, "but she led a life that will not be forgotten—no chance of that."