Economic development remains front and center for the State of Connecticut administration of Governor Ned Lamont, who has devoted time and attention in recent weeks rolling out an array of initiatives aimed at revitalizing Connecticut’s economic as it seeks to establish momentum as COVID-19 recedes.
The latest, this week, are plans to launch two new competitive grant programs that will “create jobs, strengthen the livability and vibrancy of Connecticut towns and cities, and promote new public-private partnerships to accelerate economic growth,” according to the Governor’s office.
The Innovation Corridor program and the Connecticut Communities Challenge program, both of which will be administered by the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development, are designed to spur place-based development in municipalities with up to $200 million in funding over five years.
The grants are a component of Governor Lamont’s Economic Action Plan – a strategic package of initiatives that totals more than $750 million over five years, matched approximately dollar-for-dollar by private and other non-state funding that officials say will result in a projected 80,000 new jobs.
Just days before, the Governor announced a collaboration between the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU), the Connecticut Office of Workforce Strategy, and Amazon Web Services (AWS) to provide technical skills training and education to more than 2,000 Connecticut residents by 2024.
Through this initiative, the 12 CSCU community colleges and four universities will be able to offer courses and certificates that align with skills needed to pursue in-demand careers in technical fields. The colleges will also work with interested high schools to provide access to cloud computing curricula, officials noted.
AWS Academy program will provide CSCU institutions with ready-to-teach, cloud computing curricula that prepares students for industry-recognized AWS certifications and in-demand cloud jobs. Educators at participating institutions have already started receiving instructor training taught by AWS experts to prepare to deliver courses to students, according to CSCU officials. Under the initiative, students will be able to access cloud computing training at CSCU institutions as well as connect to self-paced online training courses and labs from AWS. In the near future, CSCU expects to enable students to purse AWS certifications as part of their degree programs.
Also this month, Governor Lamont announced that the Connecticut Manufacturing Innovation Fund Advisory Board has voted to approve the release of $8.3 million in funding to support a series of technology and workforce initiatives “designed to strengthen the long-term competitiveness Connecticut’s manufacturing sector, including several new programs.”
The funding was approved through the state’s Manufacturing Innovation Fund, which received $20 million over the biennium in the budget approved by the legislature and Governor this summer. The new initiatives, which will receive a total of $3.7 million, as outlined by state officials:
Increasing Engineering Internships for Connecticut Resident College Students: Engineering is named in more open Connecticut manufacturing job postings than any other category. Connecticut colleges and universities graduate a large number of degreed engineers, but a significant number of these graduates leave the state to begin their professional careers elsewhere. This initiative will provide grants or stipends to cover up to half the wages for summer engineering interns, who must be Connecticut residents. Increasing the number of interns employed at Connecticut manufacturers increases the likelihood that students take full-time positions in the state upon graduation.
Matching Grants for Digital Readiness and Cybersecurity Assessments: The Smart Industry Readiness Index (SIRI) helps companies assess their readiness for incorporation of Industry 4.0 technology, assess their current capabilities for digital transformation, benchmark their current status in key areas against other like manufacturers, prioritize areas for focus/investment, and provide a roadmap to incorporation. This matching grant program will underwrite up to 50% of the cost of such an assessment to lower the cost for manufacturers to access such an analysis. In addition, this program will be used for cybersecurity assessments and roadmaps.
Retain an Organization to Facilitate Matches Between Connecticut Innovators and Connecticut Manufacturers: Recently there has been an increase in requests from Connecticut innovators to be matched with Connecticut companies to manufacture their product and help bring the product to market. Currently there is no structured way to match these groups. The state is in discussions with a third-party vendor to create a two-year program to address this unmet need.
The initiative also includes marketing and advertising, to better match jobs and job seekers:
Advertising Campaign Highlighting Career Opportunities in Manufacturing: Access to a skilled workforce is the top issue for Connecticut manufacturers. Between state funding and federal funding, significant investments have been made in building out advanced manufacturing training centers across the state over the last decade. A sustained advertising campaign will drive up awareness, interest and enrollment and contribute to a stronger workforce talent pipeline in the future.
Comprehensive Manufacturing Website: Currently there isn’t one website where manufacturers can find answers to the myriad of issues and challenges they face. To address this need, the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development will work with the Department of Administrative Services to develop and maintain a comprehensive website organized around specific issues facing manufacturers such as workforce needs, access to capital, marketing, environmental issues, and technical support.
Regional Career Fairs: Career fairs have proven very successful in educating students about the many benefits of a career in the manufacturing sector. The Manufacturing Innovation Fund has agreed to make funds will be available to multi-employer manufacturing organizations to support regional career fairs in the coming years.