Economists and job experts have been harping for years about the need for America to again become a maker nation, driven by its once proud manufacturing base.
Perhaps nowhere is that need on greater display than in the hollowed out buildings and factories of Detroit. Once the cradle of America’s industrial strength, the city has become a symbol of economic struggle and transition.
But things have slowly started to turn around — and not just in the Motor City. The city of Bridgeport, Conn., was once home to more than 500 factories, a giant of U.S. manufacturing in its own right.
It’s in Bridgeport, where administrators at Housatonic Community College (HCC) recently announced plans to build the new New American Manufacturing Hall of Fame. In an article in Community College Daily, editor Matthew Dembicki describes an initiative that aims to pay homage to the nation’s manufacturing roots while sparking new interest in an industry that is quietly surging back to life.
What follows is an excerpted version of the Daily’s original piece.
In the 1900s, Bridgeport was home to legendary companies, such as Remington Arms, which produced ammunition there; Hubbell Inc., which made electronic connections; the Lake Torpedo Boat Co., which built submarines for the U.S. Navy; sewing machine maker Wheeler & Wilson; and the Locomobile Company of America, which built premier cars.
Some of the manufacturers produced such important products that their company names are synonymous with their products. Dan Wisneski of the HCC Foundation, which is leading the hall of fame project, noted that the first precision-milling machine was built by the Bridgeport Machine Co. and it is known simply as “the Bridgeport.”
“That’s the kind of reach Bridgeport has. And I don’t think there’s any reason it can’t happen again,” he said.
The new manufacturer
Aside from celebrating history, the college and its partners want to update the public’s image of manufacturing by highlighting the skills required to work for Bridgeport-based companies, such as medical manufacturer PEP Lacey and Hubbell Inc., which produces electronic connections.
Many people still think of manufacturing as the three Ds: dark, dangerous and dirty, Wisneski said. “We are trying to raise awareness about what advanced manufacturing is.”
That includes educating the public about the reemergence of U.S. manufacturing. Over the last two years, as it has become more expensive for U.S. companies to manufacture overseas, a “re-shoring” of jobs has employers seeking skilled U.S. workers, Wisneski said. But many companies can’t find enough skilled employees because of the perception of manufacturing and because of a retiring workforce.
The college and its manufacturing partners have a strategy to change that. First, HCC wants to tap retirees to serve as instructors for new students. In addition, the college is reaching out to students in grades six through eight to introduce them to careers in science, technology, engineering and math.
Wisneski said it is critical to reach students before high school so they can see the importance of taking the right math and science classes to pursue careers in those fields.
In October, the foundation will begin inducting companies into the hall. It will initially focus on companies in the greater Bridgeport-New Haven area and expand to include all of Connecticut, New England and the United States.