Small and midsize manufacturers benefit from state’s Manufacturing Voucher Program

By Kevin Zimmerman

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The state’s Manufacturing Voucher Program, part of its Manufacturing Innovation Fund, is proving to be so successful that it has already granted nearly three-quarters of its budget to companies looking for help in investing in technology to maintain its presence in Connecticut.

According to Catherine Smith, commissioner of the state Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD), as of the end of June the MVP has spent about $7.5 million of the $10.5 million set aside for the program.

“We’re very pleased,” Smith said of MVP, noting that the voucher program is a partnership of the DECD and the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology Inc. “It’s a popular program in that it allows manufacturers access to money for new, productive technologies, workforce training and to give a leg up to small and midsize manufacturers who are downstream from the larger manufacturers to remain competitive and attractive to potential employees.”

MVP was the first program that the Manufacturing Innovation Fund (MIF) board approved upon its formation in December 2014.

“Over the next few years, Connecticut’s small manufacturers are going to be asked to increase their production to meet the needs of larger companies,” Gov. Dannel Malloy said in announcing the voucher program, calling it “a tool that will assist them with purchases of new equipment, jumpstart research and development activities, as well as training.

“The state is here to assist these companies in any way we can to ensure they are competitive and ready to meet the future demands,” he added.

Since its launch, the MVP has awarded 214 grants to more than 180 advanced-manufacturing
companies. Of those, 71 percent have bought equipment, 17 percent have used the money for training and 12 percent for new software. Eligible companies can apply for vouchers of up to $50,000 for the purchase of specialized expertise that will help improve operations, including marketing, compliance and other technical expertise. Participating companies must pay half of the cost.

Straton Industries in Stratford is using MVP grants for two purposes — management training and equipment upgrades. Specifically, the company — a certified contract manufacturer of parts, molds, tools, dies and stampings — is buying an optical comparator, which automatically measures parts against their specifications, a process that had been done manually.

With the MVP grant, company President Dave Cremin said they should be able to cut inspection job times in half; he added that in the past year, Straton has grown from 55 to 65 employees.

“Manufacturers are always looking to improve and stay competitive,” Cremin said. Over the past two years, he said, Straton has spent about $500,000 on new equipment, “so every little bit helps.”

Cremin characterized the online application process as “reasonable. It’s not checking a box and signing your name, but you basically have to indicate how you plan to use the money and later provide documentation that you did so.”

Bridgeport-based Amodex, which makes eco-friendly ink and stain removers, last year relocated from 989 Hancock Ave. to 1354 State St. into a new facility and needed additional equipment. With the help of a $47,000 MVP grant, the company added two new mixing tanks and a new filling line which, when operational, will more than double the company’s capacity and allow it to add new products, according to President Beverlee Fatse Dacey.

With the additional capacity, Dacey said, Amodex has built a five-year plan to multiply sales five times and expand its exports to such markets as the United Kingdom, Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore and Canada.

Dacey sits on the MIF advisory board, where she said, “everybody else is in aerospace and other big manufacturing sectors. Catherine (Smith) felt it was important to bring the voice of the ‘little guy’ to the table, to give smaller companies the opportunity to grow.”

Dacey said she was careful to ask if there was a potential conflict of interest at play when Amodex sought a grant to help offset relocation and equipment costs, but said that since the MVP board does not actually administer the grants — that falls under the aegis of the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology — there was no conflict. “Other board members have also applied,” she said.

MVP offers “a phenomenal opportunity for businesses to get the money necessary to grow,” she said, adding that Amodex currently has six full-time employees and expects to add another two.

She noted that, as designed, MVP allows companies that initially received less than $50,000 to reapply for funds up to that amount; Amodex itself initially received $47,000, then reapplied and received another $3,000 as it priced out new equipment.

Commissioner Smith said both the MIF and MVP have been important components in growing the state’s manufacturing jobs, with about 1,500 jobs added in the sector in 2015 and roughly the same number expected this year.

“After 25 years of decline,” she said, “the tide has turned.”

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