Workforce development, transportation, and Connecticut's fiscal challenges were among the top policy issues members of two influential CBIA councils discussed with state lawmakers Jan. 23.

Sen. Paul Doyle (D-Wethersfield), Rep. Pam Staneski (R-Milford), and Rep. Pat Boyd (D-Pomfret) met with CBIA's Small Business Advisory Council and Manufacturing Advisory Council for a two-hour brainstorming session in Hartford.

Manufacturing, Small Business council meeting
"Last year was a first step to turning the state around." Sen. Paul Doyle, Manufacturing Advisory Council chair Lou Auletta, Small Business Advisory Council chair Kim Pita, Rep. Pam Staneski, and Dymotek Corporation CEO Norm Forest.

Michael Brault of Bristol-based Ultimate Companies told lawmakers the state must do more to promote manufacturing as a viable career option.

"We are suffering from a narrative that says manufacturing is not a good career choice," Brault said. "At this point in time, that argument is patently false.

"I think we need some sort of marketing campaign, some effort on the state level, to change that narrative.

"Look at what's going on at Electric Boat and the contracts they have. Look at the aerospace industry.

"There's manufacturing across the state, and there is a tremendous grassroots effort to try to promote technical education to give people opportunity.

"But that narrative is having trouble getting momentum, especially among the higher levels of education. We've got to change the minds of the parents."

'Cool Place to Be'

Glen Ford of Phoenix Manufacturing in Enfield agreed.

"We must take away the stigma that a machine shop is a dirty, nasty, dingy place," he said.

"If you were to come to Phoenix Manufacturing, it's like a laboratory."

"Not all students are college bound, but they're all career bound," said Michael Polo, the president of Manchester-based aerospace parts manufacturer ACMT.

We suffer from a narrative that manufacturing is not a good career choice. That's patently false.
— Ultimate Companies' Michael Brault
Polo, who admits he wasn't cut out for college, says the floors inside ACMT are painted white, just to prove how clean their work environment is.

"We do that on purpose," Polo said. "It's a cool place to be."

"It's not dirty manufacturing anymore," said Nancy Brault of Ultimate Companies.

"You need math skills so you can read a micrometer. There's so much technical information today. You really need to be computer savvy.”

Workforce Partnership

CBIA's Education & Workforce Partnership works with public schools and manufacturers to encourage students to pursue lucrative careers in manufacturing and other STEM-related fields.

State Rep. Pat Boyd
State Rep. Pat Boyd speaks at the Jan. 23 small business and manufacturing policy meeting.

"Our partnership works to strengthen the connection between future workers and the industries that need them," said CBIA's Andrea Comer, the partnership's vice president for workforce strategies.

CBIA president and CEO Joe Brennan thanked the council members for their efforts.

"What you contribute to the state of Connecticut is invaluable, not just the jobs you provide but your commitment to the people, your commitment to your communities, your commitment to the state of Connecticut," Brennan said.

"It really makes us really proud to represent you."

Transportation Concerns

But one issue affecting employers in most parts of Connecticut is getting their employees to the workplace.

Most of the council members at the meeting indicated they favored the return of tolls to Connecticut highways—but only if the revenue goes into the state's Special Transportation Fund.

"Better roads are good for business and tourism," said Gary Bergeron of Bolton-based Connecticut Trailers.

If we do tolls, there'd better be a lockbox—and we better give the key to someone outside the building.
— State Rep. Pam Staneski
The General Assembly has routinely raided the STF. As recently as last year, lawmakers stripped $37.5 million from the fund to help balance the state budget.

Those raids are among the factors now threatening the STF with insolvency, with Governor Dannel Malloy recently postponing $4.3 billion in transportation projects across the state.

Lockbox Referendum

Voters this November will be asked in a referendum whether to set aside funds in a separate transportation lockbox that lawmakers cannot touch.

Staneski said a preliminary DOT plan for tolls between New Haven and New York City shows too many tolls for her liking and that, depending on the time of day, a one-way trip could cost from $5 to $15.

If tolls are used to repair roads in the area where they are collected, with the remainder going to the transportation fund, that could be an option, Staneski said.

"But if we do tolls, there'd better be a lockbox—and we better give the key to someone outside the building," she said.

Doyle said that if lawmakers opt for electronic tools on state highways, the gas tax could go down slightly but would likely not be eliminated.

'Turning the State Around'

Two of the three lawmakers in attendance—Democrats Doyle and Boyd—bucked their party last year to vote for a Republican-drafted budget that included some long-term reforms sought by CBIA for years, including reforms to the state employee pension system.

That bill, which was vetoed by the governor, paved the way for the breakthrough bipartisan budget that overwhelmingly passed the state House and Senate Oct. 26.

"I think we did take a first step to start turning the state around," Doyle told council members.

I'm not going to tell you we solved the state's problems, but we made some progress last year.
— State Sen. Paul Doyle
"I'm not going to tell you we solved the state's problems, but we made some progress last year."

He gave all the credit to Boyd, who cast his vote in his first term as a House member. Doyle is in his 24th year as a state lawmaker.

Council members agreed that having a consistent, stable, predictable budget is the best way for lawmakers to build the confidence needed to drive business investment, job creation, and economic growth in the state.