Finding a skilled workforce, searching out available industrial space and securing U.S. Department of Defense job contracts are among the top challenges facing the region’s manufacturing industry, according to a roundtable-style discussion Friday afternoon between U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., local manufacturers and agency and local leaders.
Murphy, who met with about 20 stakeholders at InCord, a custom safety net manufacturer on Upton Road, has been working with President Donald Trump’s administration in efforts to strengthen Buy American laws and help U.S. manufacturers clinch more federal contracts, he said.
The Buy American Act, signed into law in 1933, required to U.S. government to favor products made in America in its purchases. However, the laws contain exceptions that allow federal organizations, like the U.S. Armed Forces, for example, to buy needed products overseas, even if they’re available for a comparable price here in the United States, Murphy said.
“The problem is, over the years, the exceptions have become the rule, and we are now finding that it is easier and easier for foreign companies to qualify for U.S. procurement — and even when they can’t, particularly at the Department of Defense, there is just really terrible, awful enforcement,” he said.
Two recent audits of the Buy American law, which included the U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force, Murphy said, showed that 40 percent of the waivers granted to the Buy American law should never have been issued.
Securing a federal contract is a boon for a manufacturer, but one of the hurdles can be knowing how to go about it, said Christopher Jewell, an owner of the Bozrah-based Collins & Jewell Co., an industrial installation and custom fabrication company.
Another hurdle can be recruiting a skilled workforce, said InCord co-owners Meredith Shay and Daniel Ritz, a sister-and-brother team who act as operations manager and general manager, respectively.
“Our real challenge has been recruiting and finding qualified people who can just start work,” said Ritz.
Finding infrastructure to meet their manufacturing needs is also a problem, said Shay. To that end, the company is set to break ground in the spring on a 12,000-square-foot warehouse on Upton Road.
First Selectman Arthur Shilosky, who attended the discussion, said he was optimistic about Colchester’s economy in 2018.
“It’s moving in the right direction,” he said. “Between InCord and Alpha Q, they’ve got some big projects going on right here on Upton Road.”
Alpha Q, Inc., an aerospace components manufacturer located at 87 Upton Road, is undergoing a 49,000-square-foot expansion.
“As a whole, I’m looking forward to the upcoming year and hope to have some good progress,” Shilosky said.