FARMINGTON — During a visit to a Farmington factory on Monday to promote his Buy American Program, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy instead faced a more pressing question: how to address the threat of terrorism and who can come into the country.
A toolmaker at Turbine Technologies asked Murphy to explain his thoughts on the U.S. government's visa waiver program. Murphy and others in Congress have noted that permanent residents of Western Europe, seven countries in Eastern Europe, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and Chile all may come to the United States without applying for a visa.
"There's been a lot of talk about refugees from one part of the world," Murphy said. "We've got to take a broader look at who's coming into this country."
He noted that 20 million people a year visit the United States through the visa waiver program.
"I'm worried this focus on refugees is a distraction," he said. Most of the attackers in Paris were French or Belgian citizens, police have said. Two men did travel to Europe from Turkey through Greece, but it's unknown what their nationality was.
"The visa waiver program is only as good as our no-fly list," Murphy said. "Many of these European countries are not sharing information with the no-fly list as they should."
He said he is not for requiring visas for these visitors, unless there's no improvement in intelligence sharing.
Murphy also said the U.S. and its allies have to take the fight to the Islamic State in Syria. "That's doesn't mean we put 100,000 troops on the ground in Syria. That would be a mistake," he said. "The Arab militaries in the region have to own this fight, in the end. We can't do it for them."
Vern Hussey, the toolmaker who posed the question, said he was satisfied with Murphy's response. He said that terrorism has become the hottest topic in politics since the massacres in Paris. "People seem not to be as concerned about taxes and unemployment," he said.
Turbine Technologies, which makes parts for commercial jet engines, military jet engines, and turbines used for energy production, has received more than $300,000 in state assistance. It used the support to hire unemployed veterans, training its current workforce, and including a subsidized loan to buy new equipment.
At the end of 2013, the company had 49 employees. Now it has 72. Company president Tyler Burke, an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran who is in the National Guard, took over the company from his father two years ago. He said the company is going to move the industrial turbine business to South Carolina, though none of the Connecticut employees will transfer there. There is enough growth, primarily in new commercial engines from GE and Pratt & Whitney, to maintain the current staff just with engine work. In the first year, the Greenville plant will have 12 workers, and over five years, it's expected to reach 50 people.
Before the topic turned to terrorism, Max McIntyre, the company's vice president and director of operations, showed Murphy the new machine tools they've bought and introduced him to workers.
He said the company, in addition to recruiting veterans, has found hires who were graduating from vocational high schools in Bristol and Manchester, and from manufacturing programs at Manchester Community College and Asnuntuck Community College.
"The skills they're getting from these courses are exactly what we need," he said.
Dominic DiZinno, 19, has been with the company for five months, and attended Bristol Technical Education Center, a technical high school, for his junior and senior years. "I like working with heavy machinery," he said. "I'm the type of guy who likes getting dirty."