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Updated: September 16, 2019

Italian manufacturer adds more than 100 jobs in Farmington

HBJ Photo | Gregory Seay Clive Cunliffe, Pietro Rosa Turbine Blade Manufacturing’s North American president, says the Italian metals forger/finisher’s New England Airfoil Products division in Farmington has ramped up staffing on its way to potentially $100 million in revenue in the foreseeable future.

In just three short years, an Italian maker of jet-engine compressor blades with a colorful name has revived a formerly moribund Farmington industrial shop into a local and state economic-development showcase.

Pietro Rosa Turbine Blade Manufacturing purchased and expanded, with the help of $5 million in state loans, the remnants of Farmington’s New England Airfoil Products (NEAP), a once thriving maker of compressor blades whose business model had regressed.

Pietro Rosa has already hired more than 100 employees in Farmington, which could make it eligible for state loan forgiveness, the state says.

Following introduction of Pietro Rosa’s leadership to Connecticut’s then governor and his top economic-development lieutenant at the 2016 Paris Air Show — just as the Italians had all but settled on expanding in South Carolina — Pietro Rosa quickly pivoted.

It acquired NEAP, then invested at least $34 million more, sprucing up facilities, equipment and staffing at its 100,000-square-foot plant at 36 Spring Lane. A third shift was added last fall.

Pietro Rosa, a specialist forging and machining stainless steel, titanium and nickel alloy, is making the most of its U.S. expansion, via Farmington, says mechanical engineer Clive Cunliffe, Pietro Rosa’s North American president who is based in Montreal, Canada. The closely held company doesn’t disclose financials, but Cunliffe said the Connecticut plant has the potential for revenue of $100 million in the foreseeable future.

Pietro Rosa’s apparent success also stands in sharp contrast to one of the state’s most dazzling failures, the recent bankruptcy-closure of Suffield’s Windsor Marketing Group, which received $3.5 million in state aid on its pledge to stay in Connecticut and boost hiring.

Ironically, Pietro Rosa’s state-aid package may have never come to fruition, or at the very least been funded differently, under the Lamont administration, which is migrating to a new incentives strategy that is an “earn-as-you-go” approach — where companies must create jobs before receiving assistance.

Already, NEAP’s staffing has rebounded from about a dozen employees when Pietro Rosa bought it, to 150 now in three shifts. A 200-person headcount is expected by late 2020.

If the company hits and maintains those job targets, up to $2 million of its state loans could be forgiven, a state Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) spokesman said. The loan forgiveness won’t kick in until a job audit has been completed, the DECD official said. East Hartford jet-engine builder Pratt & Whitney is now one of Pietro Rosa’s largest customers along with other big gas turbine manufacturers, such as Britain’s Rolls-Royce PLC, General Electric, Germany’s Siemens and Japan’s Mitsubishi.

In May 2018, Pietro Rosa and Pratt signed a 10-year pact to support Pratt’s F135 jet-fighter engine and its civilian PW2000 and geared turbofan engines. Pietro Rosa officials at the time said the long-term agreement could extend to its facilities throughout the U.S. and Europe.

It is global demand for Connecticut-sourced aerospace, industrial and consumer products, including from Pietro Rosa, that propelled the value of this state’s 2018 exports to $17.4 billion, up 17.7 percent from $14.8 billion in 2017, according to U.S. Commerce Department data.

The aerospace sector historically has consisted of “boom’’ and “bust” cycles, a challenge for companies that serve the sector, Cunliffe said.

“We’re having the longest run of consistent aerospace demand that we’ve seen in recent history,’’ said Cunliffe, a 30-year aeroproduction veteran.

Anne Evans, Connecticut Director, U.S. Commerce Department

Anne Evans, the Commerce Department’s Connecticut director who regularly criss-crosses the globe in support of this state’s import-export and business-development ambitions, said Pietro Rosa’s embrace and success here should prompt more companies to Connecticut.

“It is very impressive to companies outside the state,” said Evans, an adviser on Pietro Rosa’s Connecticut transition, “to see how much companies are loved in a state. That’s a part of the recipe.’’

Pietro Rosa impact, history

Pietro Rosa’s apparent success in its global markets, as well as its seamless integration into the cultures of Farmington and Connecticut have garnered accolades. It also has become a popular stop for state and local economic-development officials, Cunliffe says, who use NEAP’s story and facility to showcase Connecticut’s economic-development opportunities.

Earlier this year, Farmington’s economic-development commission honored Pietro Rosa as its “New Business of the Year.’’ The company participates in, among other local ventures, the town’s beautification efforts, said Rose Ponte, Farmington’s director of economic development.

Pietro Rosa is a corporate sponsor for Asnuntuck Community College’s advanced manufacturing training program, and belongs to two key manufacturing trade groups — Aerospace Components Manufacturers in Rocky Hill, and the Aerospace Industries Association based in Arlington Virginia.

“They really are a great asset to have in a local community,’’ Ponte said. “They get involved. They want to be contributors.”

Its eponymous founder launched Pietro Rosa in 1887, in Maniago, Italy, producing agricultural implements in the northeastern lowlands to sell in its home market, Cunliffe said.

Mauro Fioretti, Pietro Rosa’s fifth-generation president and CEO, said Connecticut offered what his company needed most at the time.

“Over recent years,” Fioretti said in an email, “our North American customer base has grown very significantly, and thus, it made perfect sense to be closer to our customers and acquire a business that would provide us with the global reach that we needed.”

“Connecticut offers excellent connectivity to our major customers in North America and is pivotal to the North American aerospace industry,” he said. “This gives us the ability to draw on the state’s many well-qualified and experienced individuals that provide the talent we need to grow. For a company founded in Italy in 1887, we were impressed with Connecticut’s preeminent place in the history of aviation.’’

Over the years, Pietro Rosa has reinvented itself around its core competence of forging and machining metal, Cunliffe said. Production of farm implements transitioned into making knives, forks and spoons.

Then, in 1955, to escape mounting cutlery competition and seeking more profit potential, Pietro Rosa turned to making blades for steam turbines, Cunliffe said. Later, production expanded to blades for gas turbines in power plants, ships and armored tanks.

“We’ve achieved our market objectives for having engine-ready products for use on land, sea and air with all the major [original equipment manufacturers],” Cunliffe said.

HBJ Photo | Gregory Seay
Machinist Kevin Thomas, of Bristol, has traveled twice to Pietro Rosa’s Italian home base for technical training.

NEAP’s roots

Nearly 4,200 miles away, in 1955 in Hartford, George Einstein, nephew of legendary physicist Albert Einstein, helped launch NEAP’s aircraft-parts production in Hartford. In the mid-‘60s, the company relocated to Farmington’s Spring Lane.

Over the years, NEAP underwent various owners, landing in the hands of Britain’s Doncasters Group Ltd. In time, what had been tens of millions in annual sales to Pratt and other aerospace customers, NEAP’s revenue plummeted and employment dwindled to just over a dozen workers, Cunliffe said.

Pietro Rosa decided earlier this century to “strategically pivot,’’ he said, and extend itself deeper into civil and defense aerospace sectors, and that meant exploring overseas sites and companies.

At the Paris Air Show in 2016, Pietro Rosa executives struck up discussions with Connecticut’s delegation about expansion opportunities in the state, Cunliffe said. That occurred while Pietro Rosa was deep in talks with South Carolina about locating there.

Photo | Contributed
Then Gov. Dannel P. Malloy (left) shares a memento with Pietro Rosa President Mauro Fioretti on April 21, 2016.

Instead, then-Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and then-DECD Commissioner Catherine Smith awed their Italian guests with incentives Connecticut could offer. At the same time, NEAP and its 100,000-square-foot Farmington facility were for sale.

Since acquiring NEAP, Pietro Rosa has invested $34 million to renovate and re-equip its Spring Lane plant. Along with new and refreshed equipment and reconfigured production cells, the company canteen was expanded with more seating and food/snack options.

The shop floor hums with car-sized machines milling and polishing hundreds of thousands of compressor blades and vanes annually — some as small as an inch up to 12 inches. But Pietro Rosa’s homeland facilities can forge and mill compressor blades five feet or longer, Cunliffe said.

Kevin Thomas, 28, of Bristol, is among NEAP’s many new faces. Hired three years ago after graduating from Naugatuck Valley Community College’s advanced-manufacturing training program, he’s seen positive changes at NEAP.

Thomas also has taken two company-paid trips to Italy, to train with Pietro Rosa’s technical staff — a nod, Cunliffe says, to the company’s penchant for treating workers like family.

“Manufacturing is rising. It’s up and up every day,’’ Thomas said.

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