White House hopes to boost CT aerospace, shipbuilding

The F-35 fighter jet, whose engines are built by Pratt & Whitney.

The F-35 fighter jet, whose engines are built by Pratt & Whitney.

Washington – The Obama administration has given Connecticut special status when it comes to seeking federal grants that would help the aerospace and shipbuilding sectors.

The White House on Wednesday said all eight Connecticut counties are now a “Connecticut Advanced Manufacturing Communities Region,” led by the Department of Economic and Community Development.

In a statement, Gov. Dannel Malloy said the designation will allow the state to “accelerate and enhance our initiatives to boost innovation, worker skills, supply-chain capabilities, infrastructure investment and job creation.”

Since assuming office in 2009, President Obama has singled out the nation’s manufacturing sector as a driver of economic development. The designation of special manufacturing regions — this is the second round of such designations — is part of the president’s campaign.

The White House said the “manufacturing communities” have forged strong economic development plans and deep partnerships between the public and private sectors, “positioning themselves for strong economic growth in the years ahead.”

The efforts make these communities eligible to go to the front of the line when applying for federal grants related to manufacturing, said Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker.

“These communities will be able to better respond to industry needs,” Pritzker said.

Connecticut is one of a dozen manufacturing communities designated by the White House Wednesday. Others include the Greater Pittsburgh Metals Manufacturing Community in Pittsburgh, and the Alamo Manufacturing Partnership in the San Antonio, Texas, metropolitan area. About 40 communities applied for the special designation.

Pritzker said Connecticut and the 11 other communities chosen to participate will receive the coordinated support of 11 federal agencies and preferential consideration for more than  $1.3 billion in existing federal grant programs.

DEDC Commissioner Catherine Smith said, “This puts us ahead of the pack” when it comes to seeking federal grant money.

“It’s terrific to get this designation,” Smith said. “It’s a recognition that the state has something that can be built upon.”

A White House release said, “The Connecticut Advanced Manufacturing Communities Region is positioning itself to soar on growth in aerospace technologies and the latest class of submarines, after pioneering in aerospace and naval manufacturing for 100 years.”

Smith said Connecticut’s new designation would help fund “a number of initiatives,” including workforce training and new trade efforts.

There’s evidence American manufacturing is in an upswing.

But last month the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis said manufacturing in Connecticut slumped last year. The BEA report said manufacturing of durable goods, a sector that includes most aerospace manufacturing and shipbuilding, fell slightly from $19.4 billion in output in 2013 to $18.7 billion last year.

A virginia-class attack submarine

General Dynamics Electric Boat

A Virginia-class attack submarine

Total manufacturing in Connecticut in 2014 was $27 billion, down slightly from $27.8 billion in 2013.

The White House cited a $30 million Connecticut Manufacturing Innovation Fund, approved by the state legislature in 2014, as part of the reason it decided to give Connecticut special status.

The fund, administered by the DECD, aims to help manufacturers with equipment, research and development, and training.  It was also established to help attract new manufacturers to the state.

Connecticut’s federal lawmakers were confident the designation would help boost the state’s manufacturing sector.

“Last year, we joined with the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development to seek this designation because we knew it would help us win more federal grants, job training dollars, and new business opportunities at home and abroad,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said  the designation “will help ensure that our vital manufacturing community continues to expand and innovate with the support of strong educational partnerships, cross-industry collaboration and outreach.”

Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, said Connecticut’s “ecosystem” of  small and large manufacturers, academia, and groups like the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology “leaves Connecticut uniquely qualified to train the next generation of entrepreneurs and innovators.”

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