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Groton — A contractor summit connecting Connecticut businesses to opportunities coming out of Electric Boat's new multi-year $17.6 billion submarine contract with the Navy, originally expected to attract a few dozen companies, instead brought about 300 manufacturers Monday to the Avery Point campus of the University of Connecticut.
EB spokesman Robert Hamilton said about three-quarters of the contractors were from the state, but others came from Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New York. Officials said the idea behind the summit was to draw wide interest from the contracting community, allowing firms to find out more about the defense procurement process and perhaps provide for healthier competition among companies to keep down costs.
"It's kind of a new environment for subcontractors," said U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, in an interview outside the auditorium of one of Avery Point's academic buildings.
Courtney said that with a contract in hand calling for 10 Virginia-class nuclear submarines to be built by EB over five years, manufacturers that might otherwise hesitate to invest in expensive equipment and processes for a one-time deal now have the confidence that their services could be used over a longer period of time.
"There's a lot of interest now that the sub rate has become more substantial," Hamilton said. "That's going to be good for everybody."
Anne S. Evans, director of the U.S. Department of Commerce at the Connecticut District Office, said the event was closed to the public because it involved defense contracting and procurement issues.
But one of the attendees willing to talk outside the auditorium, Joseph Loffredo, general manager and vice president at South Windham-based Micro Precision LLC, a firm that already is doing a substantial amount of manufacturing for EB, said he was there to support Courtney's efforts, meet other suppliers and get more information about new sub work.
"It takes a village," Loffredo said. "We support a lot of smaller shops."
At a press conference earlier this month, officials said the summit - the most substantial get-together of EB-related defense contractors in years - would allow attendees to understand what the shipyard buys and what its standards and certificate requirements are, as well as offering an overview of future needs. It also could help contractors not already involved in submarine work to get in on the estimated $79 million worth of sub-related purchase orders recorded in the Second Congressional District last year.
In addition to contractors, attendees included Marjorie Valentin, an associate dean at Three Rivers Community College, who said she was there to hear about EB's manufacturing needs in order to better align the educational institution's programs with potential jobs. She noted that there is a "critical skills gap" in such areas as metal manufacturing that educational institutions must address to ensure that job openings can be filled.
George Mathanool, chairman of the Groton Economic Development Commission, congratulated Courtney for helping southeastern Connecticut businesses connect to millions of dollars of potential defense work. He suggested that as a follow-up, incentives could be developed to encourage some of EB's 5,000 national suppliers to relocate to the state.
"Congressman Courtney has done tremendous heavy lifting on southeastern Connecticut's behalf," Mathanool said in an email. "This summit is another good example."