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May 8, 2017 Reporter's Notebook

Manufacturing exec: CT unaffordable for young workers

PHOTO | HBJ File Burke Doar stands next to Trumpf Inc.'s fiber-cutting machine in the company's Farmington campus showroom.

Capping a week in which the state's projected two-year deficit jumped from $3.6 billion to around $5 billion — raising concerns that the legislature may raise income taxes — a senior executive at Farmington manufacturer Trumpf Inc. delivered what could only be seen as a strong message to Connecticut lawmakers.

The cost of living in Connecticut, Burke Doar told a Connecticut Business and Industry Association audience in a packed room April 28 in Southington, is too high for many younger skilled workers to stick around.

Trumpf, a $6 billion German toolmaker with a North American base in Farmington that employs 500 people, has competitive products that sell at a premium to manufacturers, said Doar, the company's senior vice president. But being a profitable, innovative company sometimes isn't enough to retain valued workers.

Recent college graduates (100 of Trumpf's local workers are engineers) can sometimes find better take-home pay and cost of living in southern states, or even Vermont, Doar said.

“So then some people say 'then just raise the salaries,' ” Doar said. “Go from $45 million to $60 million [in total local payroll and benefits.]”

“The problem with that,” he continued, “is I've got to raise the price of my machines,“ making them less competitive in the marketplace.

Despite the fact that Trumpf's local operations produce 20 percent of its German parent's revenue with only 10 percent of its total workforce, there is “very formidable” competition in Japan, Switzerland and other places, he said.

Trumpf says its customers include Pratt & Whitney, Legrand, Whitcraft, ebm-papst and others in Connecticut.

“Trumpf and these companies are all willing to grow here in Connecticut with the right economic environment, and that will do a lot to solve some of our economic problems in Hartford,” Doar said. “I'm a big believer we need more taxpayers and not more taxes.”

Economic development officials from many states often contact and court Trumpf, Doar said.

“I can tell you I don't know how some people know my phone number,” he said.

In recent years, Trumpf has made decisions to expand in customer-heavy Illinois and New Jersey. Doar said it will be crucial for Connecticut to come up with ways to woo companies that are adapting to evolving technologies that make manufacturing more economical in small batches. Such shifts have resulted in modest “re-shoring,” including by Cromwell-based Carey Manufacturing, one of Trumpf's Connecticut customers.

– Matt Pilon

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