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March 20, 2023

New CONNEX website links state’s manufacturers and suppliers

Jill Mayer

Jill Mayer, CEO of Bead Industries, describes the last several years as “feast or famine” when it comes to securing supplies for her Milford-based manufacturer.

“Last year, we couldn’t get brass, but now we have more than we need for the next year,” said Mayer, who attributed her supply chain woes to the COVID-19 pandemic and its lingering aftermath. “It’s frustrating on either end.”

Now Mayer believes she’s found a solution: the recently inaugurated CONNEX Connecticut online service. The site provides state manufacturers with quick and easy access to in-state suppliers and other manufacturers as well as a place for them to post and view requests for proposals and qualifications.

Membership is free thanks to a partnership between the state of Connecticut and Connecticut Business & Industry Association (CBIA).

Mayer said CONNEX has the potential to solve her supply chain problems. COVID and its fallout revealed that the company had too few suppliers, she said.

“The primary reason for CONNEX is to develop long-term relationships with new suppliers,” said Mayer, whose company makes electrical and plumbing parts and employs about 50 people. “Finding suppliers was extremely difficult for many of us (local manufacturers) these last two years. If I can access more (local) suppliers, then I think I’ll be less exposed to interruptions. CONNEX will make this easier for us.”

Mayer added that sourcing more supplies also has the potential to reduce costs and speed up delivery.

“Hopefully costs will go down due to competition,” she said. “And it’s also transportation costs. If I have a supplier in Chicago, it’s going to take me longer to get (the item) and it’s going to cost more.”

Public-private partnership

That’s music to the ears of Paul Lavoie, the state’s chief manufacturing officer, who is urging state manufacturers to sign up for the service.

CONNEX Connecticut, which launched on Feb. 5, is part of the state’s strategy to support and expand Connecticut manufacturing, which remains the second-largest sector of the state’s economy by GDP.

The service aims to not only ease manufacturers’ supply chain woes but potentially also return supply chains to the state, creating new jobs and companies, Lavoie said.

“The purpose is to build an ecosystem in Connecticut where manufacturers can put their capacities and capabilities as well as their certifications and strengths and opportunities into a database so they can use that database to find each other,” he said.

CONNEX — developed by Utah software company i5 Services — operates in 15 other states, and any Connecticut companies that sign on by March 31 will get free access to those out-of-state databases as well, Lavoie said.

Lavoie credited CBIA, the state’s largest business organization, with bringing the idea to Connecticut, and the two formed a partnership to make it happen.

Lavoie said his office secured $606,000 from the state Manufacturing Innovation Fund to cover the service’s costs for two years, enabling Connecticut to offer free membership.

Manufacturing consulting firm CONNSTEP, which is affiliated with CBIA, will administer the program, Lavoie said.

CBIA CEO Chris DiPentima praised the state’s willingness to partner with his organization to bring the service to Connecticut.

“This probably wouldn’t have happened without the public-private partnership,” DiPentima said. “This is something that we continue to do a good job on in Connecticut: collaborate at the public and private level to bring business to our state.”

CONNEX Connecticut has been up and running for over a month, and signups are exceeding expectations, Lavoie and DiPentima said. In the first two weeks, more than 200 companies joined, significantly more than the state’s most optimistic projections.

The state initially hoped 750 companies would sign on by year’s end, Lavoie said.

“I’m highly confident we’re going to blow the doors off that 750 number,” Lavoie said.

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