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WNPR’s small business coverage elevates understanding of the challenges faced by small business, educates policy-makers, and highlights the vital role of small business to the state’s economy.

Connecticut Goes To Paris


Despite the economic downturn, aerospace is a thriving international business. But for small manufacturers in Connecticut, it can be a challenge to plug into global markets. This summer, some of them will have a chance to show their wares at the famous Paris Air Show. WNPR’s Sujata Srinivasan reports.

The Paris Air Show draws all the big names in the aerospace industry. Boeing, Airbus, Rolls-Royce, Embraer, and their chain of suppliers – you name it, they’re there. A small manufacturer like Aerospace Alloys in Bloomfield, with just 28 employees, would never have made it to the show on their own, says vice president Michelle Allinson.

“Logistically it was challenging for us and cost-wise as well it was challenging. And just having the support was really very important because not only were we going with the State of Connecticut, they were helping us to generate the new leads, generate the new business and having the support was key to our growth.” 

Aerospace Alloys has attended international airshows for the past seven years, courtesy of the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology. CCAT, in collaboration with the U.S. Small Business Administration, and the state Department of Economic and Community Development – DECD, will once again enable small and medium aerospace manufacturers, to showcase their capabilities at the Paris Air Show in June. DECD commissioner Catherine Smith says global spending cuts in the defense sector are driving companies to build business in commercial markets. Smith was at the Farnborough Air Show in England last year. She says European manufacturers, now more cost conscious in the economic downturn in the Eurozone, are drawn to Connecticut aerospace suppliers.    

“They think extremely highly of the Connecticut companies that they do business with and particularly from Europe, while we may look at Connecticut and say wow, we’re a higher cost of doing business than some of the other states, they look at us and say: ‘Hey, this is actually lower cost than doing business in our home states.’ And we’ve got incredibly strong innovation.”

Qualifying companies get to rent display space at a subsidized rate of $10,000. Connecticut is now one of 18 U.S. states to take a booth at the show. Wayne Sumple of CCAT manages the program. He says the strategy of selling just aerospace products is working.

“A few of the states use the opportunity to do recruitment and try to get folks to come to their states because of their weather and their beachfront property and so forth. CCAT’s main goal for doing this is to really promote the small manufacturers in the aerospace industry. So we designed our layout and our booth to be like that.” 

Sumple says the program has cost a total of $1.75 million over the last seven years. But since its start in 2006, participating companies generated new business of more than 200 million dollars as a direct result of attending the air shows. Last year at Farnborough alone, sales totaled nearly 45 million dollars for the 13 state exhibitors. And the impact of these dollars extends well beyond the company, says Sumple.  

“So if somebody comes back here and ends up with a million-dollar contract, you’re taking about all the support activities that go into these small manufacturers that help them from a financial aspect, an insurance aspect, from a materials aspect, from a service aspect. So you’re talking about a two or three time multiplier.”

The program has also worked for individual manufacturers. Last year for instance, exports were 15 percent of sales for Bloomfield’s Aerospace Alloys. This year, the goal is to double that. The company has opened an office in the U.K. to build a European customer base. Now, after seven years of exhibiting in the state booth at the air shows, it’s ready to get one of its own. 

For WNPR, I’m Sujata Srinivasan

Tag: CCAT is accepting applications from small and medium aerospace manufacturers through April 1st, to display their products in the state’s aerospace booth. CCAT will also provide assistance in setting up meetings with potential customers.

Sujata Srinivasan is a Senior Producer for 'Where We Live,' the flagship news-based, call-in talk show from Connecticut Public Radio, featuring deep dives at the intersection of data-driven narrative and investigative long-form journalism. She's also an editor for the Connecticut Public newsroom.

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