February 18, 2019
FOCUS: Manufacturing

Does CT need a manufacturing czar?

Eric Brown Vice President of Manufacturing Policy and Outreach, CBIA

Q&A talks to Eric Brown, the vice president of manufacturing policy and outreach at the Connecticut Business & Industry Association, about the various issues impacting the state's manufacturing sector.

Q. The CBIA has pitched a number of legislative proposals it hopes will get support in 2019. One includes creating a secretary position within the executive branch to manage Connecticut's manufacturing policy and programs. How did this idea come about?

A. Last fall, CBIA and our affiliate CONNSTEP facilitated meetings with manufacturers from across the state to create a comprehensive list of needs and solutions to the challenges facing Connecticut manufacturers.

From workforce to technology, attracting students to hiring teachers, we found a nearly endless array of silos, both within and outside of state government, working on these issues with a severe lack of strategic and collaborative coordination among them.

And there is no single person inside or outside of government who owns responsibility for comprehensive, strategic coordination on Connecticut manufacturing, including the establishment and attainment of strategic goals.

This is how we came to realize that creating a cabinet-level secretary position within the governor's office is absolutely critical.

Q. CBIA has also recommended continuing to fund the state's manufacturing voucher, incumbent worker training, and apprenticeship programs, and expanding the apprenticeship tax credit to so-called "pass-through" entities. Why are these policy initiatives so important?

A. It's important to make policymakers in the new administration and the new legislature aware that among the dozens of state-funded programs designed to help manufacturers, there are a few that have proven highly beneficial and that should be preserved, and hopefully expanded. The voucher, incumbent worker, and apprenticeship programs are highly utilized and valued by manufacturers.

As to extending the existing manufacturing apprenticeship tax credit to pass-through entities, the legislature has been anything but resistant. In fact, last year's proposal was unanimously approved in both the House and Senate but vetoed by then Gov. Malloy. His administration had some concerns with the proposal. After Gov. Lamont proposes his budget, we will be working with his office and the General Assembly to make sure this year's version of the bill is one that will continue to garner strong legislative support and get the governor's signature.

Q. Besides workforce development, what other major challenges are manufacturers facing?

A. Workforce development considered broadly encompasses a vast array of issues, including attracting more students and teachers, and creating a variety of seamless educational pathways for meeting the wide range of current and future workforce needs.

But there are other challenges, including research, development and deployment of new technologies for manufacturers of all sizes. Connecticut is fortunate to have a growing number of institutions involved in technology development and deployment. But there is insufficient strategic coordination among them and insufficient dialogue with the broader manufacturing community to ensure the right technologies are being invested in and made accessible.

Q. Connecticut's manufacturing industry, surprisingly, has grown jobs in recent years thanks to the state's large defense contractors — Pratt & Whitney and Electric Boat — winning major federal contracts. What are the biggest impediments to manufacturing growth in the state?

A. The critical need for thousands of Connecticut citizens, young and old, to pursue financially lucrative and professionally satisfying careers in manufacturing and ensuring we have the infrastructure in place to train them is probably our biggest challenge. But the demand is not only driven by defense industry contracts.

Severe cutbacks in technical education in our public high schools during the 1990s and 2000s resulted in a lost generation of talented and creative minds who were told that manufacturing was dead and that they should look elsewhere for a career.

Additionally, the average manufacturing employee in Connecticut is in their early 50s, with many thousands retiring over the next several years.

These factors alone had Connecticut facing a shortage of manufacturing workers for decades to come. Now add into the mix the large defense industry contracts you mentioned that will require low, medium and highly skilled employees for decades, and you have an existential crisis that could cost Connecticut its best opportunity in decades to grow the middle class and stabilize our economy.

Q. The CBIA announced last year that it was affiliating with manufacturing consulting firm CONNSTEP. Why did you make this affiliation and how has it turned out so far?

A. Upon announcing our new affiliation with CONNSTEP, there was an immediate buzz of optimism within the manufacturing community. The idea of organizations that work in the manufacturing sector coming together, collaborating and breaking through some of the silos that manufacturers find so frustrating and so counterproductive stirred interest and excitement.

Along with CONNSTEP's expertise in manufacturing business systems and its affiliation with regional and national resources for business innovation, CBIA now houses the Connecticut Council for Education Reform, a highly innovative organization with a strong interest in technical education, as well as the Aerospace Components Manufacturers — a dynamic organization that is highly focused on attracting young people to the amazing career opportunities in manufacturing.

All of these developments are giving these and other organizations the unprecedented opportunity to communicate and collaborate with interests across the manufacturing spectrum.

CBIA and CONNSTEP have also created a new entity called the Connecticut Manufacturers' Collaborative (CMC), which brings together manufacturing representatives from all the major manufacturer associations in Connecticut to create a single voice for manufacturing and a resource for policymakers and others to call upon.

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