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Updated: March 23, 2020 Focus: Manufacturing

Despite hiatus and coronavirus threat, lawmakers say pro-manufacturing bills still a priority

Photo | Contributed State Rep. Caroline Simmons (D-Stamford), a member of the legislature’s Manufacturing Caucus, testifies at a hearing. She supports bills that would prop up the manufacturing industry.
Key manufacturing programs 
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Before state lawmakers shut down the legislature earlier this month over coronavirus fears, one industry in particular seemed to be making inroads on significant pro-growth policy: manufacturing.

During the first few months of the 2020 legislative session, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle had been pushing bills to strengthen one of Connecticut’s key sectors, which employs nearly 162,000 people. One proposal — to extend the manufacturing apprenticeship tax credit to pass-through entities — was already approved by the Commerce Committee before the General Assembly went on recess.

Another bill provides tax credits to manufacturers that make employees available to teach training programs.

There are also efforts to protect programs currently funded by the state’s now dried-up Manufacturing Innovation Fund (MIF).

“The things we’re interested in them looking at they’re certainly focused on,” said Eric Brown, vice president of manufacturing policy for the Connecticut Business & Industry Association.

That momentum, however, was halted by the suspension of the legislative session due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic.

Legislators have closed the state Capitol until at least March 29, and it’s not clear what their priorities will be when and if they come back, Brown said. The session is scheduled to end May 6.

“Nobody can further predict what, if anything, is going to get through,” Brown said. “But in terms of support and collaboration on these issues, we’re very encouraged about discussions so far.”

Some say that the coronavirus, which is disrupting manufacturers and their supply chains, could actually strengthen the need to support the industry.

One of the key priorities for manufacturers is to preserve the Manufacturing Innovation Fund, which was established in 2014 by then Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

The $75-million fund has invested in programs and projects aimed at growing innovation and upskilling workers in Connecticut’s advanced manufacturing sector.

It funds three programs industry officials see as key: the Manufacturing Voucher Program, Incumbent Worker Training Program and Apprenticeship Program.

All MIF funds have been spent or allocated, said Brown, who is also a fund board member. But the Connecticut Manufacturing Collaborative (CMC), a collective of Connecticut’s seven largest manufacturing trade groups, had been working on a bill with the legislature’s Manufacturing Caucus that would allocate bond funding to replenish the innovation fund, said state Rep. Caroline Simmons (D-Stamford), a Manufacturing Caucus member and co-chair of the Commerce Committee.

If the session resumes, Simmons said responding to the virus will likely top the legislature’s priorities, and protecting the manufacturing sector should be part of that.

“Now with everything that’s going on with the coronavirus, we need to make sure we’re doing everything we can to make sure businesses, especially manufacturing businesses, have the resources to protect their workers,” Simmons said.

Ensuring access to capital, loan forgiveness and other measures, especially for small manufacturers, should be part of the legislature’s response to the pandemic, Simmons said.

HBJ Photo | Bill Morgan
Wallingford resident Thomas Nichols underwent skills retraining that enabled him to swap his job as an apartment maintenance worker to working for German manufacturer BYK Corp.

Other bills

Other pro-industry bills up for consideration include a proposal that would require the state Department of Economic and Community Development to conduct a study of manufacturer needs.

Another would allow companies to use research and development tax credits to pay for workforce development training efforts.

Simmons said Gov. Ned Lamont’s appointment of Colin Cooper as the state’s inaugural chief manufacturing officer has played a role in legislators’ interest in policies that benefit the manufacturing industry.

“Colin Cooper already in his short time in the position has done a fantastic job of bringing together all of the manufacturing leagues across the state and meeting with everyone,” Simmons said. “We’re working closely with him on representing their interests, on restoring funding for these programs that manufacturers have said are invaluable to them.”

And as the economic situation in the state could grow darker, Simmons says supporting manufacturing will be key to the recovery.

“It’s going to be so important that we do everything we can to support our small businesses, and small manufacturers with financial assistance,” Simmons said.

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