Connecticut manufacturers expanding as aviation recovers from COVID-19 and Pentagon spending soars

Aviation is recovering from the pandemic and Pentagon spending is soaring to confront military threats in Europe and the Pacific, powering job growth and an expansion at several manufacturers in Connecticut.

Manufacturers are preparing to capitalize on expectations that airline travel will return next year to pre-COVID-19 levels and billions of dollars that are headed to Connecticut in record military spending moving through Congress.

“It’s certainly going in the right direction,” said Mark Auletta, chief operating officer at Bauer Inc., a Bristol manufacturer of aircraft component test equipment.

The 106-year-old manufacturer is building a 30,000-square-foot addition, more than doubling its manufacturing space. Bauer has been leasing space off-site for fabrication, sheet metal work and welding. When its new building is completed in September, fabrication will be under one roof, Auletta said. Bauer will move an expanded machine shop into the new building.

In addition, Bauer has ordered $1 million of equipment, including a press brake and laser cutting.

And it will hire 20 to 30 employees in the next couple of months, adding to its workforce of 100, which includes 40 engineers, Auletta said.

Connecticut Spring and Stamping (CSS), a Farmington manufacturer of springs and machined components, broke ground in April for a 48,000-square-foot addition, a nearly one-third increase to accommodate a new power press.

Steve Dicke, president of CSS, said its medical and defense businesses have been solid, but aerospace and automotive work are “coming back slowly.”

“They’ve not really come back to the levels of what they were,” he said.

Polamer Precision, a New Britain aerospace manufacturer, has closed on the purchase of a 22.5-acre site that will make it possible to increase its square footage to more than 600,000, up from 152,000 square feet now.

Chris Galik, president, chief executive officer and owner, said the $1 million purchase of the city-owned property in New Britain is the first step toward expansion in the next few years.

Currently employing 175 workers, Polamer Precision plans to have potentially 600,000 square feet with more than 500 workers, he said. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the manufacturer relied heavily on commercial aviation, he said. The industry was hit hard during the pandemic as air travel restrictions were imposed, forcing airlines to ground their fleets.

Polamer Precision is now looking to diversify its portfolio to include manufacturing equipment for semiconductors. Expansion also will help the company add military aviation business, Galik said.

And Barnes Aerospace, a part of the Barnes Group, is more than doubling its maintenance, repair and overhaul facility in East Granby, to 68,000 square feet from 30,000. The expansion will significantly increase Barnes’ capacity to support new engine programs and product lines and improve turnaround times, the company said.

Construction related to manufacturing expansion is shadowed by supply chain bottlenecks and the highest rate of inflation in more than 40 years. As a result, building costs are rising and completion dates are delayed.

“What used to be a two-month lead time is now 10 months,” Auletta said.

Dicke said he’s not deterred by supply chain problems and inflation that are driving up costs.

“It won’t prevent us from going ahead,” he said.

Nationally, manufacturing has been “quite resilient” over the past year despite supply chain disruptions, workforce shortages, inflation, COVID-19 and Russia’s war against Ukraine that has rattled energy markets and increased global uncertainty, the National Association of Manufacturers said in its 2022 Outlook.

Manufacturing production in the U.S. has rebounded from omicron and supply chain problems and has increased 4.6% since the start of the pandemic, according to the report. Factory orders, manufacturing construction activity and consumer spending also increased over the past year, “with pent-up demand and solid spending helping to prop up growth,” the outlook said.


In Connecticut, manufacturers have hired every month but one since September 2021. With 159,800 jobs, Connecticut manufacturers have reached about 99% of the sector’s employment in January 2020 just before the pandemic shut much of the economy.

Manufacturers remained open, but scaled back early in the pandemic to limit the spread of the virus and shed 11,100 jobs in April 2020, a 7% drop in just one month.

The problem now is finding workers. Greg Hayes, chief executive officer of Raytheon Technologies Corp., the parent company of jet engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney, told industry analysts recently that employers were “caught off guard a little bit by how much pressure there is in the supply chain.”

“And I would tell you, it all goes back to labor availability,” he said.

During the downturn immediately following the start of the pandemic in 2020, aerospace and defense manufacturers laid off workers. Typically, 75% to 80% of the workers return, but now it’s about 25% as workers find other jobs, Hayes said.

Paul Lavoie, the state’s chief manufacturing officer, said workforce problems are the “single biggest thing preventing expansion of manufacturing in Connecticut.”

Members of Aerospace Components Manufacturers, a network of Connecticut and southwestern Massachusetts aerospace companies, have 800 available jobs, he said.

Child care and transportation are among the most significant barriers to working, Lavoie said. The state budget enacted in June includes $100 million for affordable child care, the result of a coalition of business and labor pushing to fund child care.

Transportation problems also must be fixed if manufacturing is to expand, he said. Manufacturing has moved to the suburbs, putting it out of reach for young city dwellers, Lavoie said. “Kids in cities would love to have jobs in manufacturing, but can’t get to the suburbs,” he said.

In an election year, job growth has become a political issue. Gov. Ned Lamont, seeking a second term, tweeted recently that manufacturing “continues to be a strong performer,” with 3,400 more jobs since December.

Republican legislative leaders see job growth differently than the Democratic governor. “I think this governor has taken credit for everything,” said House Republican Leader Vincent Candelora. “I’m not surprised he’s taking credit for something his office had absolutely nothing to do with.”

Sen. Kevin Kelly, the Senate Republican leader, said Lamont did not mention that Connecticut lost 1,800 jobs in construction from May to June. “And that’s a more important statistic because that’s more tied to what’s going on in Connecticut, inflation and what’s going on in the economy,” he said.

In addition, Connecticut is still down nearly 70,000 jobs from March 2008, shortly before the Great Recession, Kelly said.

Dicke, president of CSS, said manufacturing in Connecticut is reliable, if volatile at times.

“There are always ups and downs in the business, but it’s been steady growth for the last 25 years,” he said.

Stephen Singer can be reached at