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The New Manufacturing Ecosystem

April 12, 2014
Op-Ed and Letters

Originially published in the Journal Inquirer on April 12, 2014
This year marks the first time since 1983 that Pratt & Whitney will start production on more than 1,000 engines that will continue to ratchet up through 2017. While the great engine wars of the 1980s seem like a distant past, the many years that followed are a reminder of the transformation that has taken place. The recent success of the PWA Geared Turbofan, and the hard work of our delegation to secure single-source Pratt & Whitney contracts for the F-35 and the Air Force’s Next Generation Tanker, will sustain the next generation of machinists and will provide a springboard to the future of aerospace.
The Governor’s visionary announcement in March will bring us into the 21st century by securing the long-term commitment of Connecticut’s largest manufacturer, setting the stage for our state to be the aerospace hub to the world. All of which has been made possible by our booming manufacturing ecosystem that we must continue to strengthen.
What is that ecosystem? It’s the entrepreneurs, innovators, and small to medium-sized tool shops; our communities, universities, and community colleges. It’s the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology (CCAT), our economic and community development arm, and all the interrelated and interconnected relationships coordinated by the Malloy administration.
How do we strengthen that ecosystem? By understanding the changing nature of our workforce, the future needs of employers and positioning ourselves to effectively compete. We know our jobs and manufacturing base is changing. Today’s factories look more like laboratories than your grandfather’s shop floors. Globally, advances in information technology, logistics and transportation have transformed how manufacturers do business. It wasn’t long ago that Connecticut housed a number of major manufacturing centers. Pratt & Whitney alone employed more than 15,000 machinists at one time. Those were the days when they brought raw materials in one door and shipped jet engines powering the world’s airlines out the other.
Today, advanced manufacturing technology operations like closed cell manufacturing and 3-D printing can accomplish – with one employee and one computer – what once required a line of machinists. As competition and the nature of work changed, original equipment manufacturing (OEM) plants closed and new subcontractor machine shops opened, leading to a rise in our supply chain since the 1980s.
Many jobs previously housed within companies like Pratt have moved to these small businesses. Today, Pratt has over 450 suppliers in Connecticut, with eighty percent of their parts sourced to those companies. Suppliers provide the foundation of Connecticut’s world class manufacturing base, including more than 40,000 aerospace jobs across the state: the second-highest number of aerospace and advanced manufacturing jobs per capita nationwide.
Ecosystems combine a number of factors to create sustainable environments that improve as they evolve. The Connecticut Aerospace Reinvestment Act, recently introduced by Governor Malloy, recognizes these trends and positions Connecticut for the future. By committing their global headquarters to East Hartford for the next fifteen years, Pratt is providing certainty for Connecticut’s suppliers. Pratt is also showing its commitment to Connecticut innovation by agreeing to build a new world headquarters and engineering facility, and making renovations to the United Technologies Research Center. In addition, Connecticut is building its manufacturing workforce of tomorrow. The Town of East Hartford, Goodwin College, Pratt and Whitney, the International Machinists Union, CCAT and the state have partnered for the first time to build an exciting program aimed at ensuring a pipeline of skilled and credentialed workers.
Connecticut’s legacy of innovation continues; since 2012, Pratt & Whitney has filed more than 700 patents and secured more than 340 in the last year alone. Whether it’s inventing, designing or engineering new products, area manufacturers are hiring new engineers and keeping the most highly-skilled machining in close proximity in order to stay competitive.
Connecticut is and will be an aerospace hub. The recent announced investment in Connecticut by one of the world’s foremost manufacturers is more than encouraging for our future. The hopeful passage of that legislation, in addition to continued collaboration on workforce development, are the keys to fueling job creation, economic growth and Connecticut’s vital manufacturing ecosystem for years to come.