Eastern Conn. manufacturing alliance shows steady growth

Norwich - The Eastern Advanced Manufacturing Alliance grew by six member companies in the past year, but association president Ray Coombs is hoping to double membership to about 60 by 2015.

"EAMA really has a lot to offer," Coombs said as the alliance held its annual meeting Tuesday at the Holiday Inn Norwich.

The alliance over the past year hosted a robotics competition, held a career expo and sponsored Manufacturing Mania, a program at Three Rivers Community College that introduced middle schoolers to diverse job opportunities. It also has encouraged the growth of premanufacturing programs in the state's community college system, which Chris Jewell of the Bozrah manufacturing firm Collins & Jewell said has led to more than half of the students from last summer already finding employment.

EAMA, formed last year when a group of manufacturers from southeastern Connecticut joined the former Quinebaug Manufacturing Institute, also announced this week an arrangement with Norwich-based Consumers Interstate Corp. to develop a relationship that will call for a 1 percent rebate to be given to the alliance for member companies that purchase office supplies from the company.

EAMA members said one of the key reasons for the alliance is to encourage more young people to consider manufacturing careers. And one of the key stumbling blocks, said alliance secretary Kylee Carbone, is in educating parents and guidance counselors about the good pay, career advancement and high technology available in today's manufacturing field.

"At the end of the day, we need to hire people," Combs said. "We can't find good help."

The alliance has found a new partner, however, in the Eastern Connecticut Workforce Investment Board, which recently agreed to let the manufacturing association base its operations out of EWIB's offices in Franklin.

John Beauregard, executive director of the workforce board, pointed out that for every new manufacturing job created in the region, about one and half new positions are created in other occupations. Programs that Beauregard has overseen adding 358 manufacturing workers to the local economy have led to $11.3 million in direct economic gains for the region, he said, and $12.9 million in indirect benefits.

EAMA's northeastern manufacturers are dominated by firms producing plastic products, while southeastern Connecticut is weighted more toward fabrications work, according to economic-development experts. The EAMA's ability to house the two manufacturing groups under one umbrella provides a good mix of companies, they said.

"There's a lot, a lot of people earning a living in manufacturing up here," Coombs said.

Yet without an organization like EAMA, members suggested, that message could become muted.

"Eastern Connecticut should be seen as a manufacturing powerhouse," Jewell said. "That's sometimes forgotten by Hartford."

l.howard@theday.com

Twitter: @KingstonLeeHow

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