FRANKLIN - Local manufacturers on Friday hailed a provision included in the U.S. Senate’s version of the National Defense Authorization Act that would increase Congressional oversight of defense department contracts as a means to keep more jobs in the American supply chain.
“If we keep pushing things overseas, we’re never going to have a stable manufacturing economy,” Kelli Vallieres, president of Sound Manufacturing in Old Saybrook, said Friday at the Eastern Connecticut Workforce Investment Board in Franklin, where she other business leaders met with U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who sponsored the amendment.
Murphy’s amendment would require the Pentagon to submit detailed invoices for overseas purchases. The House of Representatives has not included the clause in its version of the bill, but Murphy said Friday he’s optimistic it will be retained.
Murphy said the issue hits Eastern Connecticut businesses particularly hard as headquarters to the Navy’s main submarine production site.
“We spend all this time focused on EB and Pratt & Whitney, but the real story is the supply chain, and I have become very, very worried that even as we plus up the number of submarines we’re making, we’re doing less of the component work in the United States,” Murphy said. “We found plenty of examples in which there was a clear U.S. supplier that could have provided, and we bought it overseas because it was cheaper.”
In May, Murphy’s office released a report that found since 2007, the defense department has granted 307,123 waivers to the Buy American Act, at a deferred cost of $176 billion to domestic suppliers.
The act is an 82-year-old law that requires federal government agencies to favor U.S.-made products in its purchases.
But language in the act allows procurement requirements to be waived if the domestic product is more expensive by a certain percentage than a foreign-produced one.
Raymond Coombs, president of Plainfield-based Westminster Tool and also leader of the Eastern Advanced Manufacturing Alliance, said strengthening the industry’s foundation to attract younger workers is critical for its survival.
Earlier this month, the state announced that its five workforce investment boards will share a $3.8 million federal grant to develop job training programs and “industry specific” collaborations0
“The next problem is changing that perception of manufacturing with the younger generations that the opportunities are there and alive and well,” he said. “It’s up to the companies. I don't think it's up to the government and schools. We can't just wait for the ball to come to us.”
John Beauregard, the investment board’s executive director, said Murphy’s amendment and the newly won grant benefits the entire sector by offering the promise of job stability and complementing training and apprenticeship programs already in place.
“A lot of the work that we've been doing has been on the supply side of getting people ready, but workforce development is a supply and demand balance,” he said. “Across the country, your amendment helps to retain American jobs and create them and that helps on the balance we’re doing here.”