Connecticut exports powered by the aerospace industry reached a record $10.5 billion last year, ranking the Hartford area as the 30th largest export market in the nation, the U.S. Commerce Department said in a recent report.
Exports of transportation equipment, which includes aerospace parts, totaled $6.5 billion. Other exports include machinery, electrical equipment, computer and electronic products and fabricated metal products.
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Exports increased by $312 million, or 3.1 percent, in 2014 from the previous year.
"The aerospace industry is doing fabulously well," said Anne Evans, director of the Commerce Department's U.S. Commercial Service in Middletown.
The state's top export markets included Canada, China, France, Germany and United Arab Emirates.
Connecticut's aerospace supply chain dates to the industry's start in the 1920s, with companies making parts for airline engines and other components for General Electric Co. and United Technologies Corp. The state has a competitive advantage with an experienced work force that needs little training and advance time to fill aerospace orders.
And the industry is benefiting from rising demand as commercial airline manufacturing is expected to rise. "Aerospace really is an export story," said Dave Emmerling, vice president of strategic sourcing at Pratt & Whitney, the jet engine manufacturing subsidiary of United Technologies.
Pratt & Whitney spends $2 billion annually — $400 million in Connecticut — for work by 450 suppliers, of which 350 are in the United States and 90 are in the state, he said.
"We're better off going with someone local who has a record," he said. "There are decades of learning."
Chris DiPentima, president of Pegasus Manufacturing Inc. in Middletown, said Connecticut's third- and fourth-generation aerospace manufacturing firms make workforce quality "second to none." Pegasus manufactures hydraulic and fuel lines for engine systems among other aerospace parts.
"It's why we're able to make things faster than a lot of other states and countries," he said.
The industry is benefiting from increasing demand in air travel, particularly tied to a rising middle class in China and India that is traveling more than ever before, DiPentima said.
The strength in a high-skill, high-pay manufacturing industry is a bright spot in Connecticut's otherwise weak economic picture. Unemployment in May was 6 percent compared with 5.5 percent nationally.
And the state's economy grew by just 0.6 percent in 2014, 42nd among the states and lagging the 2.2 percent national growth rate.
Peter Gioia, economist at the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, said the strength in the state's aerospace industry will have an impact on the job market over time.
"You're not going to get instantaneous returns on this," he said.
Gioia is optimistic that exports will continue to grow with Pratt & Whitney airline engine orders in the pipeline.
"Growth in that sector is almost inevitable," he said.
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