Into The Future
Story and Photographs By John Murray
It’s exactly the sort of deal that many in Waterbury imagined when John Rowland took an influential post at the Waterbury Chamber of Commerce two years ago, and was declared the “economic czar” of Waterbury. Rowland was a three-term Congressman and had been governor of Connecticut for nine years, so clearly the man had contacts in high places.
Some fantasized Rowland would thumb through his rolodex and business and industry would pour into Waterbury. That was delusion. The first problem was that Rowland was no longer in charge of the state checkbook. The second problem was that Rowland was in the process of trying to rehabilitate himself after resigning from office and serving a year in federal prison for not paying taxes on $100,000 in gifts.
But a larger problem than the checkbook, or the rehab process, was that shortly after Rowland accepted the post, the global economy melted like a Snickers bar on a sweltering day in August. Rowland had plans, but they crashed into a devastated economy. Suddenly, with panic sweeping around the globe, Rowland’s job wasn’t about bringing business and industry to Waterbury, it was about retaining business.
It was full blown damage control. Stop an exodus. Calm the situation.
Certainly not the sort of headlines Rowland, or the city, thought he’d be generating.
The economy is now beginning to rebound from the worst crisis this country has faced since the 1930s, and Rowland is beginning to tap into the contacts he had hoped to work two years ago.
He landed his first fish in February.
After a year-long courtship Rowland successfully convinced the Connecticut Center For Advanced Technology (CCAT) to expand into greater Waterbury. Rowland lobbied CCAT’s executive director, Elliot Ginsberg, to open a satellite office inside the Waterbury Chamber of Commerce, and lobbied State Rep. Jeff Berger and State Senator Joan Hartley to secure state money to fund the project.
CCAT was awarded $625,000 for technical and business assistance to area manufacturers, and the deal was announced at a gathering inside the chamber of commerce in mid-Febrary.
Gary O’Connor, Chairman of the Board at the Chamber, credited Rowland for cobbling the deal together. “This was not an easy sell,” O’Connor said, “John Rowland used his credibility and experience to convince CCAT to get more involved with Waterbury. John Rowland was the only individual that could have pulled this off.”
Rowland met Elliot Ginsberg 30 years ago when Rowland was serving his first term as state representative, and Ginsberg was serving as Commissioner of Social Services under then Governor Bill O’Neil. Rowland’s effort at welfare reform brought him in close contact with Ginsberg and they became friendly. Years later when Ginsberg went to work as a family magistrate, then for Congressman John Larson, and then branched out to form CCAT five years ago, he remained friendly with Rowland.
After accepting the post at the Chamber, Rowland was instrumental in reaching out to CCAT and bringing them down to Waterbury to meet with a revived Manufacturing Council inside the chamber. CCAT has been working with area manufacturers for a year, and all during that time Rowland has been trying to convince CCAT to have a stronger presence in the region.
Ginsberg finally agreed.
CCAT has its headquarters in East Hartford, which is only a 25 minute drive from Waterbury. “But it might as well be in the far east,” Ginsberg said. “Having a direct presence in Waterbury is important.”
At the gathering inside the chamber last month Ginsberg stood before a group of manufacturers, businessmen, and community leaders, and pondered “Why Waterbury?”
Ginsberg said there are thousands of people in Waterbury making a living from manufacturing and “if that goes, what does that mean to Waterbury and Connecticut? It’s important to help make sure we compete in global opportunities. It is in all of our best interest that manufacturing sustains and grows.”
Ginsberg touted the rich manufacturing history in Waterbury and Naugatuck where brass, rubber, clocks and watches were produced. “If we build on the foundation of this incredible history we can move forward faster,” Ginsberg said, “and I believe there is currently a terrific base to build on.”
So what the heck can CCAT do?
‘They offer manufacturing technology support, will help you test new ideas, help you diversify and help you set up a machine shop,” Rowland said. “They can even help you develop a new product and make a 100 samples at their lab in East Hartford.”
The mission of CCAT is to provide services and resources to entrepreneurs and businesses which include assembly sequence development, composites manufacturing, metal working optimization, online training, computer assisted manufacturing (CAD), ergonomic modeling and analysis, metrology, robotic work cell design and laser training.
CCAT employee Don Balducci, a process improvement specialist, will visit area manufacturers to assess and recommend changes, and advise how to seek resources to implement those proposals.
CCAT employee Robert Torrani is the director of Manufacturing & Supply Chain Initiative and develops activities that further the adoption of new technologies and best practices inside a plant.
The non-profit also has incubator space at its facility in East Hartford for start-up technology companies to access essential resources such as CCAT’s laboratories, light manufacturing and R&D space. Incubator companies at CCAT also have access to world-class conference and meeting facilities and the expertise of strategic partners. CCAT’s collaborative environment enables start-ups to easily develop both business and technology elements of their companies.
One of the key components of CCAT is that they are a facilitator between three sectors that don’t communicate well with each other - government, academia and manufacturing.
It is an integration of ideas.
“In manufacturing people five miles from each other don’t know how they can help each other,” Ginsberg said. “it’s important to communicate.”
CCAT has been involved in running a two week long Young Manufacturers Academy at Kaynor Tech every summer for 100 kids. Efforts are being made to link the successful PAL Program in Waterbury with the program.
Rowland hopes that area manufacturers take advantage of these amazing opportunity.
“If we can get Waterbury to open their minds the guys from CCAT will go into their offices and plants and expose them to innovation and the latest technology,” Rowland said. “The world is changing and we can’t stay competitive if we keep making the same product. Manufacturers need to diversify to compete in the global economy.”
At the February gathering, Rowland deflected accolades and thanked State Representative Jeff Berger and State Senator Joan Hartley for securing state funding for the pilot program in Waterbury.
“This is a great start,” Berger said, “but I think this is just the beginning. Once CCAT gets a footprint in the area we can focus on a bigger vision for the future. We have to ask what the city can do to redefine manufacturing.”
Berger said innovation and transportation are the keys to moving manufacturing beyond the 19th century model. “It’s time to move forward and redefine ourselves,” he said.
CCAT is sending a delegation to the Paris Air Show in June and a trade mission to the United Kingdom in April.
“The world is getting smaller and smaller,” Rowland said. “We have to change or we’ll be left behind.”
For more information about CCAT check out their website at www.ccat.us, or contact John Rowland or Jeff Rouleau at the Greater Waterbury Chamber of Commerce at 1-203-757-0701.