Calls small, midsize companies the heart of Connecticut manufacturing

By Bill DeRosa

Manufacturing is a "very important component of our strategic efforts to grow the economy here," said Catherine Smith, commissioner of the state Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD). Speaking at Manufacturing and Technology Day at the State Capitol on May 25, Smith told some of Connecticut's leading manufacturers that the DECD wants to improve the way they do business in order bring more jobs: particularly manufacturing jobs: to Connecticut.

She noted that Connecticut's approximately 5,000 manufacturers provide more than 10% of the employment in Connecticut (the national average is around 9%) and have added 1,000 jobs since the end of the recession, making manufacturing "among the better growth engines that we have in the state."

The Heart of Connecticut Manufacturing.

Although Connecticut is home to some of the country's largest manufacturers: particularly defense and aerospace: Smith said that small and midsize companies are the "heart" of our manufacturing base.

She suggested that pressure on defense spending in the next few years will make it harder for the big defense contractors to add a lot of growth, but that small and midsize manufacturers will have the opportunity to grow significantly as the economy begins to turn around.

Talent Shortage

In recent talks with business owners, Smith found that manufacturers are trying to grow their workforce: a "good sign for the industry as a whole": but that finding qualified employees is a challenge. Ensuring that Connecticut's educational institutions provide the kind of talent that supports high-end manufacturing in our state, she said, is "a subset of all our priorities."

DECD Priorities

Only six weeks into her job, Smith quipped that she has "had a chance to learn just enough to be dangerous," and get an early read on the DECD's priorities.

Number one, she said, is to "help existing and established businesses in the state get what they need to grow"_at a reasonable cost."

She admitted that, although the DECD has been "helpful when called upon," it hasn't been proactive enough in terms of "really getting out in front of the issues and really trying to help [businesses] on a much more proactive basis." She pledged that her agency would make much more of an effort to become an "outreach partner."

Other department priorities are:

Growing the "innovation side of the state" by drawing new capital into Connecticut to help high-tech startups

Ensuring that the department does business in a friendly way and streamlines its permitting and other processes

Marketing Connecticut's strengths more aggressively to attract businesses and promote economic development

Manufacturers Speak Out

Business owners discussed a number of concerns with Smith at Manufacturing and Technology Day, including the fact that anti-business legislation, such as the paid sick leave mandate and "captive audience" bill, tells businesses that Connecticut is moving in the wrong direction.

One participant noted that many European manufacturers are setting up operations in more business-friendly states: such as South Carolina, New Mexico, and Arizona: and that the DECD needs to attract that kind of investment to Connecticut.

Smith agreed, citing Connecticut's leadership position in high-tech, high-end manufacturing: "One of our major ideas is to get out and do much more overseas," she said. "We're really going to get back out there and make sure we're at the right meetings."

Bill DeRosa is editor of CBIA News. He can be reached at bill.derosa@cbia.com.