They came, they listened, and hopefully, a critical mass of representatives from Newtown’s leading manufacturing and related companies departed an early June breakfast forum with ideas about how various state and federal support agencies could help them sustain and grow their businesses in town.
On the morning of June 4, more than two dozen business leaders, including several company principals, founders, and CEOs, packed the meeting room at My Place for a 90-minute networking session and breakfast, highlighted by four special guests representing the US Department of Commerce, and Connecticut’s Departments of Labor, and Economic and Community Development.
After a round of introductions from guests who attended on behalf of local companies, including Rand Whitney, Advanced Fusion Systems, Sonics, Architectural Glass, SMT Corporation, Tier One, The Taunton Press, Wind Corp, and Curtis Packaging, the speakers each took time to relate how their agencies stand ready to promote local manufacturers’ success and sustainability.
Laura Jaworski opened the speaking program. Ms Jaworski is a business development project manager for the State of Connecticut’s Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) Office of International and Domestic Business Development.
As part of the state’s economic development mission, she explained how her office at the DECD acts as a catalyst for international activity in Connecticut. Ms Jaworski works to increase the global competitiveness of Connecticut business by helping them enter new markets, pursue global opportunities, and build international public and private strategic partnerships.
Ms Jaworski said her responsibilities include state export and trade promotion, foreign direct investment, business recruitment, and protocol assignments. Since 2011, she has served as Connecticut’s project director for the State Trade and Export Promotion (STEP) grant, a federal award from the US Small Business Administration geared to increase small business exports.
“What we’ve done is establish a general assistance fund to help companies like yours take advantage of export opportunities that meet your needs,” she said. Her agency deals strategically with companies in areas like aerospace and medical device manufacturing, and assists them by creating introductions to potential clients or key partners in specific countries.
Ms Jaworski discussed how she might help key companies conduct trade missions to foreign countries.
Following up, Melissa Grosso a senior international trade specialist at the US Department of Commerce’s Commercial Service office in Middletown discussed how she and her agency assist Connecticut firms develop effective export strategies for entry into new markets. She has led several trade missions of Connecticut companies to assist in their penetration of various markets.
Ms Grosso also told the local executives she serves as the global aerospace and defense team leader for the US Commercial Service. In this role, she coordinates efforts among the 200-plus aerospace and defense specialists worldwide to support the US aerospace industry.
She said her office can help conduct background checks on international companies a state industry may be courting as a client, as well as making introductions to these foreign industry leaders. And her office helps local companies understand cultural and political aspects of foreign markets.
“We’re a small office, but we’re nimble and work with companies all across the state,” Ms Grosso said.
Cowlis Andrews, a community development specialist for the Office of Business Development with the Connecticut DECD has worked in urban revitalization and development, housing and community development, municipal development, brownfield development, and business development. Prior to working at the DECD, Mr Andrews was a community development planner for the City of Bridgeport.
He reviewed the opportunities available to local manufacturers through a matching grant program called “Business Express,” as well as a revolving loan fund for smaller projects and infrastructure a company may need to grow. He also promoted a job creation program that can supplement salaries for new employees.
“The governor is pushing for job growth, and we are pushing to get back to the levels we had prior to 2008,” Mr Andrews said.
As a business services specialist with the Department of Labor, Michelle Caffe invited any of the attendees to reach out to her, since she serves as a direct link to assist employers with developing a skilled workforce through her agency’s recruitment and job posting services.
She also explained how she assists employers with obtaining job training grants to advance their current workforce’s skills and qualifications. Ms Caffe also works frequently with manufacturing businesses in the Northwest region, with emphasis on industries that employ workers in high growth occupations.
The DOL specialist detailed how she helps companies host mini job fairs, often targeting candidates for specific high tech and specialized applications, saying she often travels across western Connecticut, sometimes supporting as many as three such job fairs in one day.
“A lot of employers prefer to have recruitment events at their place of business,” she said. Ms Caffe said she and her office can also assist local manufacturers by screening and qualifying specific candidates, especially for certain specialized and high tech positions.
She also promoted the statewide “Step-Up Program” that provides some salary subsidies for certain clients, particularly if they are interested in hiring returning or unemployed Connecticut veterans.
The second part of the morning session generated a lively dialog among attendees and the presenters, with many of the local representatives clarifying how specific programs or officials could go to bat on their behalf.