A local manufacturers' summit held earlier this month has spawned a follow-up meeting March 28 at Three Rivers Community College to determine whether local businesses want to create or join a regional manufacturers' council.
"The real reason for this is workforce; it's all about getting a good workforce," Deborah Donovan, director of economic development at the SouthEastern Connecticut Enterprise Region, said in a phone interview.
Donovan, who penned a comprehensive economic development strategy in 2011 that outlined the need for a manufacturers' council, said the main issue is addressing a skills gap in the region between what businesses need and the training that workers have received. A lack of skilled workers that fit the needs of a new high-tech business environment has left some manufacturers struggling to find qualified workers even in the midst of a prolonged economic slump in southeastern Connecticut.
"Jobs in manufacturing are very different than they used to be, and they change constantly," Donovan said.
Local manufacturers invited to the March 28 meeting will be asked whether they want to start their own group or join the Quinebaug Manufacturing Institute, which operates in northeastern Connecticut. The group would help coordinate the types of training that students get at community colleges in the region.
Donovan said she believes it would be best to join an existing organization that already has a track record in coordinating educational training with community colleges.
"The whole of eastern Connecticut gives a lot of critical mass," she added.
Donovan said northeastern Connecticut manufacturing is dominated by firms producing platic products, while southeastern Connecticut has a lot more fabrications work. Together, they provide a good mix of manufacturing types, she said.
Ray Coombs of Westminster Tool Inc. in Plainfield, the current president of the northeastern group, has been encouraging companies from the region to join Quinebaug manufacturers in trying to exert more influence on education and employment opportunities by joining his group.
Among other things, the manufactuers' council provides financial support to community colleges, hands out scholarships, arranges for interships, sponsors an annual expo and serves as a cohesive voice when approaching state legislators.
Donovan said about a dozen local manufacturers attended the summit March 6. She expects a final decision on whether to form a manufacturers' council at the March 28 meeting, which is scheduled at 8 a.m.
Mike Mattox of Birk Manufacturing in East Lyme said in a statement, "(A) program focused on training students on the manufacturing techniques needed by southeastern Connecticut will be extremely valuable. Being able to give feedback on course offerings and other program aspects will help Birk save costs on training and turnover."