Is manufacturing the Valley’s past … and future?

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy visits Shelton to work on manufacturing plan

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy speaks to about 50 manufacturing company representatives during a roundtable discussion in Shelton. (Photos by Brad Durrell)

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy speaks to about 50 manufacturing company representatives during a roundtable discussion in Shelton. (Photos by Brad Durrell)

Shelton and the rest of the Valley was once a hub for factories producing items that were shipped around the world.

The factories provided well-paying jobs that supported families and boosted the local economy.

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy holds a draft of his Compact for Connecticut’s Manufacturing plan that he is working to finalize.

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy holds a draft of his Compact for Connecticut’s Manufacturing plan that he is working to finalize.

In the latter half of the 20th Century, many of those factories closed and moved elsewhere, leaving behind vacant, old industrial buildings.

But a new kind of manufacturing now is returning to the area, with the work often taking place in modern manufacturing facilities rather than sprawling brick buildings.

Last week, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy came to Shelton to discuss how to build on the state’s manufacturing base. He led a roundtable discussion on developing a plan for a federal manufacturing policy.

“What we’ve been about, and still are about, are the things we make,” he said.

 

Murphy’s plan is still a working document

Cable wire used by OEM Controls Inc. in the manufacturing process at the company's Shelton plant.

Cable wire used by OEM Controls Inc. in the manufacturing process at the company’s Shelton plant.

Murphy described his “Compact for Connecticut’s Manufacturers” as a working document that still is evolving, based on feedback.

He’s meeting with a variety of groups to finalize the plan, from labor and environmental organizations to business owners.

The Greater Valley Chamber of Commerce helped organize the event at the OEM Controls Inc. facility, off Long Hill Cross Road. About 50 representatives of local manufacturing firms were in attendance.

OEM Controls designs and makes electro-hydraulic controllers and control systems used in construction, utility work and other fields. The company employs about 215 people in Shelton.

 

Bright future?

Murphy took questions from the audience, many of which focused on government regulation, the need for better training and education, and the high cost of doing business in Connecticut.

He said having a strong manufacturing presence is important to the state’s future, noting the role such high-paying jobs have played in Connecticut’s economic past.

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, right, takes a tour of the OEM Controls Inc. manufacturing facility in Shelton with Keith T. Simons, president of the company’s control products division.

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, right, takes a tour of the OEM Controls Inc. manufacturing facility in Shelton with Keith T. Simons, president of the company’s control products division.

Murphy said he understands the importance of manufacturing because his great-grandfather left Poland to come to Connecticut due to the good factory jobs here.

“I’m a product of that dream,” said the state’s junior senator, a Democrat first elected in 2012.

Most of today’s manufacturing jobs require high-level skills and technological competence, he said, and aren’t located in “old, rotted-out buildings” but in modern corporate parks.

 

America now more competitive

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, left, chats with manufacturing company representatives during his Shelton visit.

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, left, chats with manufacturing company representatives during his Shelton visit.

Murphy said global changes now taking place are making the United States more competitive for manufacturing, with labor costs increasing in developing countries and America producing more of its own energy.

“We can ride this wave of re-industrialization that is happening,” he said.

Having a formal policy would focus attention on the steps needed to make that happen. “Our manufacturing policy really is disjointed now,” Murphy said.

 

Too much government regulation?

Glen Golden of Electri-Cable Assemblies in Shelton said some regulations have gotten out of control, such as one requiring public companies to report whether the origin of certain minerals used in manufacturing can be connected to supporting war efforts in the Republic of Congo.

OEM Controls Inc. founder Brian Simons addresses the roundtable, with U.S. Sen. Murphy sitting on the left.

OEM Controls Inc. founder Brian Simons addresses the roundtable, with U.S. Sen. Murphy sitting on the left.

This reporting effort costs his company time because it must trace back its supply chain. “It’s these type of things that are frustrating for small manufacturers,” Golden said.

Other attendees spoke about problems with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration on workplace safety, prompting Murphy to say that something on OSHA should be added to the draft plan.

“The regulatory environment has gotten a little out of control, especially for the little guys,” Murphy said of small business.

 

Fixing the problems

Murphy said it’s important for him to hear these concerns. “I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty trying to fix these things,” he said.

Attendees mingle before the manufacturing roundtable begins in Shelton.

Attendees mingle before the manufacturing roundtable begins in Shelton.

There also were questions about whether Murphy’s plan would simply create more government spending and bureaucracy.

For instance, the plan backs raising the federal gas tax to upgrade infrastructure. Murphy defended the idea, saying it would help businesses.

 

Skilled workers shortage

Murphy and some of the businesspeople said young people today need to understand that manufacturing can be a lucrative career.

Jerry Clupper

Jerry Clupper

Keith Brenton, president of Autoswage in Shelton, said recent high school graduates working as toolmakers can make more than four-year college graduates, yet it’s hard to find a qualified toolmaker under age 50.

Jerry Clupper, New Haven Manufacturers Association executive director, said the region’s voc-ed high schools and community colleges are being upgraded to teach the skills needed for advanced manufacturing jobs.

 

Many kinds of manufacturers

Brenton said too much emphasis sometimes is put on the state’s aerospace industry that makes engines, downplaying other kinds of manufacturing.

“Someone has to make nuts and bolts and screws,” said Brenton, noting his company makes a simpler kind of product that is exported to China. “We can be competitive with China,” he said.

 

The entrance to one of the OEM Controls manufacturing facilities off Long Hill Cross Road.

The entrance to one of the OEM Controls manufacturing facilities off Long Hill Cross Road.

 

 

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