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CT Construction Digest Monday November 14, 2022

Developers submit new plans for 83 housing units in West Hartford Center 

Michael Walsh

WEST HARTFORD — Plans to build a mixed-use development containing 83 multifamily housing units and retail space in West Hartford Center have been resubmitted.

Plans for the project were first submitted earlier this year by The Arapahoe Group, a development group formed by Marc Lewis of Lexham LaSalle Development, Manafort WHC and West Hartford Arapahoe. The plans were withdrawn before a public hearing was held, but were revised based on feedback from the town's Design Review Advisory Committee.

The proposed plans, which the Town Council last week referred to its Planning and Zoning Commission and the Design Review Advisory Committee for review, envision the construction of two separate five-story buildings, one offering 58 one- and two-bedroom condominiums and the other offering 25 units of rental housing — four of which would be deed-restricted affordable units for 40 years available to those making 80 percent or less than the area median income. The project would also include about 3,500 square feet of retail space. 

The housing would be built on 3.4 acres of land the developers said is "underutilized" and the development group would need to demolish two office buildings at 8 Arapahoe Road and 12 Arapahoe Road. The other buildings included in the development — 53-65 LaSalle Road, 27-43 LaSalle Road and 1001 Farmington Avenue, all of which are already owned by the developers — would remain intact.

The development would also include a three-story parking garage with two of its levels underground, surface parking, new landscaping and public spaces. A number of parking spaces would be made available to the public on the weekends and in the evening. 

This revamped proposal includes fewer condo units, as requested by the town's Design Review Advisory Committee. Developers dropped the number of condominiums from 64 to 58. In turn, the developers added four units to its rental apartment building. In all, the developers dropped the total number of units from 85 to 83. The number of structured parking spaces was also reduced from 260 to 218. And overall, the entire project decreased in size from 254,394 square feet to 245,430 square feet.

"DRAC was right in saying the larger of the two buildings should be reduced in size and that more consideration had to be given to the space around the base of that building," wrote the developer's attorney, Robin Messier Pearson of Alter & Pearson. "The change was made to make it more vibrant and welcoming to both residents and to the public."


The parking lot at the corner of LaSalle Road and Arapahoe Road is part of the area developers are proposing to build a mixed-use housing and retail development. Plans have been resubmitted to the town.

Michael Walsh / Hearst Connecticut Media

Other design changes were also made, including the addition of more lighting features, the widening of sidewalks and the addition of specialty paving at pedestrian crosswalks.

"This design will be an incredible improvement over existing conditions and a significant addition to the vitality of the Center," Pearson wrote. "The new buildings will create significant value, beauty, green area and even employment opportunities in the underutilized existing surface parking areas that characterize so much of this property. The effect will be to transform this barren, unattractive area in a vibrant residential community benefiting the existing businesses in West Hartford Center and the overall town of West Hartford."

A public hearing on the proposed plans — which are requesting a change in zoning — has been set by the Town Council for Dec. 13.

DOT advises against returning Norwalk's Wall Street train station; study finds it 'is not feasible'

Abigail Brone

NORWALK — A Department of Transportation study four years in the making determined that reinstating a train station along Wall Street in Norwalk was not recommended for a number of concerns.

The Wall Street Station Feasibility Study, which began in 2018, was completed and released by the DOT in July, with a final report briefing on Oct. 21, according to DOT documents.

In the final study, a 104-page document, the DOT determined, “due to a combination of physical, operational, and cost factors, none of the station alternatives evaluated are considered viable.”

Wall Street previously had rail service from 1860 until around the 1930s, when the station was closed and the service converted to bus, according to the study.

“The city of Norwalk thanks CT DOT for conducting a thorough analysis to consider the feasibility of reestablishing a train station in the Wall Street corridor,” said Jessica Vonashek, Norwalk’s chief of community and economic development.

“After examining five locations in the area, their study determined that a station is not feasible," she said. "While we are disappointed with the conclusion of their report, we are grateful for the time and effort they spent exploring the potential return of a Wall Street train station.”

The study area limits were defined by a 10-minute walkshed around the historic Wall Street station and included Cross, River and Isaacs Streets, and encompassed the Norwalk transit hub, according to the study. The area was centered on the rail tunnel adjacent to River Street.

“This assessment addressed the physical constraints of each potential site and the surrounding areas, the potential impacts to existing and future rail operations, as well as market and demographic considerations,” the study said.

Within the study area four station sites were identified: Cross Street, 18 River Street, 47 Wall Street, and 17 Isaacs Street. During the study process, a fifth station site was identified that combines the Cross Street and River Street sites, according to the study.

Five findings were identified that led to the assessment of poor viability for the proposed station, according to the study. The findings were centered on site constraints, ridership impacts, rail service limitations, cost and economic development potential.

For the site constraints, DOT found that none of the four original sites meet the engineering minimums for construction, including platform size and the likely need for property takings, according to the study.

With four existing train stations — East Norwalk, South Norwalk, Rowayton and Merritt 7 — in the city, the nearest of which is one mile from the study area, “it is likely that the projected ridership for a Wall Street station does not consist of new riders, rather a shift of existing users along the Danbury Line.”

However, no analysis was done on the East Norwalk and South Norwalk stations along the New Haven Line and ridership impacts are unknown, according to the study.

The Danbury Line service showed capacity for a new station, however, existing headways of 40-plus minutes in the peak time would be increased by four to eight minutes by adding a station. Considering the limitations of the Danbury Line, DOT suggested there is potential to add more frequent shuttle service between the existing rail stations and surrounding area by using existing transit options within Norwalk.

Cost estimates placed construction of the station at $60 million, according to the study.

“A smaller investment into existing transit/microtransit systems could likely create a focused and highly effective shuttle service within the study area that links to the main line and points north of Danbury,” the study said.

DOT announced plans for the study in April 2018 amid local pressure to consider reestablishing the previous stop. The State Bond Commission previously approved $275,000 for the study.

The considered spot for the station was the city-owned Mechanic Street parking lot off Wall Street, across the Norwalk River from Freese Park.

How New Milford will fix one of the worst bridges in Litchfield County

Kaitlin Lyle

NEW MILFORD – The town is now one step closer to the replacement of Merryall Road bridge —  which has been identified as one of the worst five bridges in Litchfield County and classified as being in “poor condition."

Residents were encouraged to bring their questions about the replacement of the bridge, which is located over the West Aspetuck River, to a public hearing at the New Milford Inland Wetland Commission meeting on Thursday.

New Milford hired WMC Consulting Engineers in Newington to provide the design of the bridge and associated roadway and site improvements, along with the evaluation of additional alternative studies for the bridge replacement.   

The town held a public information meeting to inform residents of the bridge replacement project’s proposed construction, cost, schedule and environmental considerations. In addition to replacing the bridge, WMC Consulting Engineers Vice President Keegan Elder said the project’s goals are to minimize disturbance to the traveling public, complete construction in a timely manner and effectively use available funding for the project. 

Elder said for next year, the cost of construction is approximately $4.3 million  —  funding will be 50 percent from the state and 50 percent from the town. He said construction is expected to take seven months, to start April 1, 2023 and be finished on Nov. 30, 2023.

Elder said the project's total impact to state wetlands is under 1,900 square feet. 

As Elder discussed the bridge’s structure, he said the plan for the project’s construction is to build half the bridge at a time. During construction, he anticipates Merryall Road will be closed to traffic.

New Milford Department of Public Works Director Jack Healy said the town will have another public session to address traffic concerns and detours.

Elder said most concrete bridges have a 75- to 100-year lifespan with proper maintenance and good workmanship. 

Focusing on the west side of the river embankment and how close it is to the road, resident Jim Stasiak asked if WMC is going to build out the west side to prevent water from going up against the edges of the road. Elder said the plan is to extend the waterwall and demonstrated on the maps of the project how the wall will be built out.

Members of the Inland Wetland Commission also raised concerns about whether the public had been made aware of the public information session in September, given the bridge’s location in “a major area” and the impact of the road’s closure on residents.

A public hearing on the Merryall Road bridge’s replacement will continue at the Inland Wetland Commission’s next meeting on Dec. 8 at 7 p.m.

Bethel to vote on $12.3 million upgrade to water treatment plant — with water users to bear cost

Kendra Baker

BETHEL — A nearly $12.3 million project that’s part of the town’s multi-year water system capital improvement plan will soon go to a town vote.

A special town meeting will take place at 7 p.m. Thursday in Meeting Room A of the Clifford J. Hurgin Municipal Center to schedule a referendum on funding for the proposed Bergstrom Well and Water Treatment Plant.

The plant would be located north of Joe Freebairn Field near the intersection of Plumtrees and Walnut Hill roads and allow the town to replace the subsurface water currently used for its water system with well water. 

“Well water is much better than subsurface waters from reservoirs,” Acting First Selectman Rich Straiton said. “The well on the Bergstrom property will produce 800 gallons a minute, and that water will be much more suitable for the public water supply.” 

Compared to reservoirs, which can yield drastically lower amounts of water during periods of drought, Straiton said wells provide “a more constant source of water.”

Of the $12.3 million needed for the project, nearly $10 million would be for construction, roughly $1.8 million for professional services, $499,413 for contingency and $16,000 for legal fees.

Not all Bethel taxpayers would bear the cost — only those who get town water, according to Straiton, who said there are 3,500 town water users in Bethel.

“It’s user-based, so the people who currently get town water will pay for this project and it’ll be over a 20-year loan,” he said.

Straiton said their water rates will go up a bit, but it’s not yet known how much.

“We’re applying for over $3 million in grants, which will help lower the cost, but the final number is not currently known,” he said. 

The Bergstrom Well and Water Treatment Plant project — which Straiton said has been in development for three to four years — is part of a 30-year capital improvement plan that the town embarked on after voters rejected a proposal to sell Bethel’s water system to Aquarion in 2013.

Since then, the town has built two new storage tanks, drilled two new wells, refurbished a couple of existing ones and renovated virtually every pump system. Part of the work involved the 2016 completion of the 750,000-gallon Eureka water storage tank, which allowed the town to move forward with plans to further expand Clarke Business Park.

New Haven, Spinnaker break ground for 200-apartment 1st building on former Coliseum site

Mark Zaretsky

NEW HAVEN —  For 15 years, the five acres bounded by South Orange, George and State streets and Route 34 has been nothing but a big expanse of gray asphalt, a parking lot where the New Haven Veterans Memorial Coliseum once stood.

That's about to change.

Heavy equipment and construction workers will roll in to peel up the asphalt, do some digging, pour a foundation and start putting up steel. In a couple of years, the 200-apartment first of three buildings in Phase 1 of the site's redevelopment, to be known as "Square 10," will appear.

"This is a big, big moment," said Mayor Justin Elicker, a few minutes and seven more speakers before officials from the city, state, Spinnaker Real Estate Partners and other stakeholders grabbed shovels to toss some sand that had been trucked in and dumped on the parking lot at 275 S. Orange St. for the occasion.

It's not easy to break ground through asphalt.

Elicker made reference to all the concerts that took place at the Coliseum over the years, saying, "It's a different kind of rock and roll, but we're rock-and-rolling today."

Over the past decade or so, "different entities have tried to make this work, and now we have success," Elicker said said of the development, which is part of the larger Downtown Crossing project. "Today is the day that we break ground."

He remarked about how many groundbreakings and ribbon cuttings the city has had in recent months, saying the city's resilient economy "is what just made the city pop."

Clay Fowler, founding partner of Spinnaker Real Estate Partners and principal of LWLP New Haven LLC, to which the city transferred ownership of the property last month, said, "We couldn't be more pleased or more excited to be here."

He offered thanks to a host of people associated with the project for their efforts getting it to this point.

Spinnaker took over the project in August 2019 after the initial developer, Live Work Learn Play, a Montreal company that started the plan in 2013, withdrew after six years, faced with complications related to potentially moving utility lines and putting up a hotel that didn’t cost out.

City Economic Development Administrator Michael Piscitelli called the groundbreaking "really a milestone effort, even beyond the shovels in the ground."

He acknowledged Ninth Square neighborhood businesses, which he said have been patient for years while they waited for something to happen on the site. "What happens on this site is going to support them for many years," he said. 

Piscitelli said there will be a public information meeting on the project on Nov. 17 at 6 p.m. in the Canal Dock Boat House.

Hill and Downtown Alder Carmen Rodriguez, D-6, thanked Spinnaker "and all others that are part of this project. History is in the making today," she said. "We are going to see something that's new, beautiful and it's going to connect communities."

Other speakers included Ginny Kozlowski, CEO of the Economic Development Corporation of New Haven; Alexandra Daum, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Economic & Community Development; Peter Calkins, vice president of development for Ancora; and Garrett Sheehan, president and CEO of the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce.

Daum praised New Haven as a partner with the state, saying, "We always prioritize working with strong partners" and in this case, "this is an amazing array of partners. ... Like everyone else, I'm excited to get shovels in the ground."

In addition to 200 apartments — 20 percent of which will be classified as "affordable housing" — the first building, designated Phase 1A, will have 16,000 square feet of retail space and a 25,000-square-foot public plaza. Two other buildings are in the development pipeline.

Spinnaker and its partners will reserve 20 of those units for households at 50 percent to 60 percent of the area median income, or AMI, and 20 units for households at 61 percent to 100 percent of AMI.

Phase 1 is a 3.5-acre parcel that will be developed in three sub-phases, which will include housing, public amenities and a "life sciences" medical and lab office building, city officials said.

The next two buildings, Phase 1B and Phase 1C , which still need zoning approval, will follow next year after plans are reviewed and approved by the City Plan Commission, city officials and an executive with the developer said.

Phase 1B currently calls for construction of a 650-space parking garage and an additional 75 to 100 apartments, 20 percent of which will be affordable units, officials said. The new housing will partially wrap around the garage structure.  

Phase 1C will involve the construction of a more than 200,000-square-foot medical and laboratory building with a ground floor restaurant, officials said.

Elicker thanked Ancora, one of Spinnaker's partners which is developing the Phase 1C building, for investing in New Haven "without a fully-leased building," for its confidence. He pointed out that Pelli Clarke & Partners, a globally-respected architectural firm based in New Haven, will be the building's designer. 

Calkins also said he was pleased to be there and said Ancora, based in North Carolina, is here because "obviously, Yale's here and Yale is increasingly a driver in the life-sciences community." He said his company currently is "in the midst of advancing the design" of the third building. 

The total construction price for Phase 1A is expected to be $76 million, with the costs of the later phases still to be determined, city spokesman Len Speiller has said. Estimated completion dates are 2025 for Phase 1A and 2027 for phases 1B and 1C. 

The five-acre site, which has been a parking lot since the Coliseum was imploded in a billowing cloud of dust,  is at the city's front door, where vehicles exiting Interstate 95 and Interstate 91 on Route 34 first enter downtown. It eventually will be home to 700 units, with ground floor retail, pool, a health club, a public plaza and many other amenities.

Quarry operations prompt trail detour on Chauncey Peak in Meriden

Ben Baker

MERIDEN — Starting this month, hikers will need to chart a different path along the trap rock ridges atop Chauncey Peak.

The Mattabesett Trail — which crests over the peak — now has a minor detour, rerouting climbers near the top of the mountain. Visitors can expect to find orange fencing and a sign pointing them in an alternate direction due to work at the Suzio York Hill quarry.

After making a turn as directed, hikers are instructed to follow a new set of trail markers: the signature blue blazed Mattabesett Trail, accompanied by red, square-shaped markings beneath them. 

The detour still allows Mattabesett hikers to witness an extensive mountain view and summit Chauncey Peak, but they will be flanked by orange fencing while doing so.

Because of work conducted on the Suzio York Hill property, hikers “will be re-directed away from equipment and quarry operations,” the Connecticut Forest & Parks Association announced. 

Suzio York Hill Vice President Ric Suzio said the company will begin quarrying in an area adjacent to the trail. Though altering the pathway of the loop encircling the Bradley Hubbard Reservoir, Suzio said the company will not interfere with major hiking trails.

“The main trail will continue to be open and unobstructed, but the loop that comes off, and some of the smaller spurs that people have created to go look into the quarry, we’re going to be clearing some land there,” Suzio said. “We just do not want people coming and walking in while equipment is running up there.”

Suzio added he is unsure how long the ongoing project will last or how long the Mattabesett detour will remain in place.

“We don’t know. It really depends on the weather conditions.” Suzio said. “If we get a winter that arrives in the middle of November and lasts until April, that’s going to make it a longer project. If we have no snow this winter, it will be a shorter project.” 

The process of extracting stone from the quarry often requires the use of explosives. Suzio York Hill works with the company Maine Drilling and Blasting to carry out quarrying, according to Suzio.

‘Unusual circumstance’

Suzio York Hill owns exclusive rights to the quarry used to acquire trap rock — a key element of asphalt — and is free to use land within 50 feet of cliff edges, naturalist Bob Pagini said. 

What makes Suzio York Hill’s activity uniquely precarious for natural landmarks such as Chauncey Peak, Pagini said, is its abnormally close proximity to quarry activity and the absence of a protective “buffer” between a potential quarrying zone and the peak’s southern edge.

“Suzio has the right to blast away those cliffs at the top on the southern part of the mountain because there is no 50-foot buffer there that would protect that part of the mountain,” Pagini said. “It’s an unusual circumstance in that most quarries don’t infringe upon cliff edges like that.”

Suzio York Hill owns the southern exposure of Chauncey Peak and could legally choose to run operations on the mountain, but Suzio insisted his company “will not be infringing on Chauncey Peak at all.” He stopped short, however, of guaranteeing the landmark would not be damaged by ongoing quarrying.

“I can’t guarantee that. We take all caution that we can,” Suzio said. “But life doesn’t come with a guarantee. We have no intentions of it [damaging Chauncey Peak], and we take all precautions in making sure that it is not [damaged].”

Suzio believes natural erosion poses a greater threat to Chauncey Peak than quarrying and said his company previously committed to protecting the mountain’s south side. But Pagini worries the company may have a change of heart and continue to push closer to the peak as it seeks to further extract trap rock.

“I’m just wondering if they’re going to stop at that point,” Pagini said, “so that’s my main concern, that the southern peak be saved if they could.”

More students, companies are pursuing apprenticeships in CT

Erica E. Phillips

It took about two weeks to assemble the application, recalls Tahjay Greene, a senior at Platt Technical High School in Milford. 

First he had to gather his high school transcripts, three teacher recommendations, attendance and community service records and various signatures from school administrators. Then there was the essay portion, which asked, among other questions: “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

When all was said and done, Greene was among the less than 13% of applicants who were accepted this year. But it wasn’t admission to college. 

Greene landed an internship building military helicopters at Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky Aircraft, in Stratford, where he and 44 fellow high school-aged students became the newest members of the Teamsters Local 1150 this summer. They work full-time for eight weeks during the summers after their junior and senior years, and upon graduation, many receive full-time job offers at the helicopter manufacturer, making $27 to $29 an hour to start.

Sikorsky’s “Career Pathways” program, as it’s known, is one of a growing number of work-based learning programs and apprenticeships that are seeing an upswing in interest in Connecticut.

From 2020 to 2021, the Connecticut technical education system said participation in work-based learning programs — where students work part-time for school credit and pay — rose by 43% to more than 1,000 students across the system’s 17 schools. That far exceeded the department’s annual goal of 10% to 20% growth, according to Patricia King, who supervises the program. 

Registered apprenticeships, which are one- to four-year on-the-job training programs offered by employers and trade unions, have also made gains in recent years. According to the state labor department, there were almost 300 more companies employing apprentices in 2022 than there were in 2013. The number of apprentices fluctuated over that time period but has remained above 6,000 for the last six years — up from 4,618 in 2013.

“We call it ‘the other four-year degree,’” state apprenticeship director Todd Berch said. “Instead of going to a classroom every day, you go to the world of work.”

“Upon graduation from college, you get a degree,” Berch said. “Upon graduation from an apprenticeship, you have your career.”

Policy researchers say the rising cost of higher education — and crippling student loan debt — has begun to shift popular thinking about the value of four-year bachelor's degree programs, leading to a renewed focus on career and technical education. These career paths are more affordable (often paid) and line up students with jobs in fields like defense manufacturing, where Connecticut has a considerable need for skilled workers

In Connecticut, which is among the top five states for defense contract spending, there are about one-third as many jobs in manufacturing today as there were at the sector’s peak in the late 1960s. And much of the current workforce is nearing retirement age.

In order to crew up for a slew of new federal contract work, Connecticut’s defense manufacturers are working together with state agencies, community colleges and labor unions to train underemployed and unemployed workers — and to build career paths for younger students coming up through the state’s school systems. 

Students like Greene stand to benefit from those programs, which are heating up almost as quickly as the competition to get in.

Greene said one of his friends applied to Sikorsky’s “Career Pathways” program and wasn’t accepted. Another friend had been “bragging” about his summer job, Greene said, “but once he found out that I got into Sikorsky, the first two weeks he kept texting me, ‘How’s it going? How’s Sikorsky going?”

There’s a reason work-based learning programs and apprenticeships are so competitive: While their numbers are growing, they’re still in short supply. 

Before he was accepted into the Sikorsky program, Ben Pucci, a recent graduate of the electrical trade program at W.F. Kaynor Technical High School in Waterbury, said he had a hard time finding a company that would take him on.

“A lot of the electricians, at least in my area, were so swamped with work, they didn't have enough time to train a one-year apprentice,” Pucci said. “I actually ended up working at Stop & Shop for about six months. Man, that humbled me.”

For small manufacturing companies, hiring and training young, inexperienced workers requires a significant investment of time and money. And it’s hard to know whether it will pay off.

This year, at the urging of business groups, Connecticut lawmakers passed legislation providing a tax credit to small manufacturing companies who take on apprentices. The credit was already available to large corporations, and smaller businesses had been urging the state to expand it.

In testimony to the legislature, representatives from dozens of companies — many of whom are suppliers to larger manufacturers — called on lawmakers to “level the playing field.” They said it’s often the case that they’ll invest in training a young employee, only to see them move on to take a job at a larger company.

“This has made training new employees an unproductive use of time and resources for smaller companies and only exacerbates the current drought of skilled labor in the manufacturing industry,” Rep. Tami Zawistowski, R-Suffield, said in written testimony.

While small companies can now take advantage of that tax credit, the “drought of skilled labor” continues to strain defense manufacturers and their suppliers. 

Young people, once they’re trained, are in high demand. The sector’s current workforce is aging: More than one-third of manufacturing workers in Connecticut are over 55, according to the state labor department. 

That leverage gives young people the luxury of choices.

Briley Peters, a senior at Emmett O'Brien Technical High School in Ansonia, said some of the interns in her department saw the prospect of working at Sikorsky after high school as “a fallback plan” and were still weighing whether to go to college.

“I’d say it’s split 50-50,” Peters said.

To entice young employees to stay on, many companies including Sikorsky offer reimbursement for the cost of additional schooling. In many cases, but not all, the certification or degree has to be job-related.

“I wasn’t planning on going to college,” said Mikayla DePalma, a Sikorsky intern who graduated this year from Platt Tech. “But coming into Sikorsky, I still have the option to go to college.” 

“It definitely beats tens of thousands of dollars of college debt,” Pucci said. 

(Pucci and DePalma both accepted job offers at Sikorsky after completing their internships this fall.)

The investment can pay off for companies if it prevents employees from heading somewhere else. And it pays off for the state by keeping skilled, productive workers — and their income taxes — local. 

This year, the legislature approved a tax break for businesses that offer education reimbursements to their employees, up to $5,000 a year per person. (The credit was included in the annual budget “implementer” bill, section 419.) 

“The big guys were already doing it,” Gov. Ned Lamont told attendees at a recent meeting of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association. “I like to think this is one more reason [young people] want to stay in Connecticut and one more reason you’d want to hire them,” he said. 

Paying dues

In several industries, labor unions take the lead running apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs. 

Unions say the training provides a path to the middle class on par with a four-year college degree. A recent study from the Illinois Economic Policy Institute, which focused on the construction sector, found that “outcomes for participants in joint labor-management (or union) apprenticeship programs rival those for college graduates.”

Stephen Herzenberg, an economist and executive director of the Keystone Research Center in Pennsylvania, says apprenticeship has been increasingly “in vogue” in the United States, in part because college education has become prohibitively expensive for many families. 

Proponents often point to Germany’s education system, where trade programs are seen as equally prestigious to other educational paths, Herzenberg said.

“In Germany, there's basically a bifurcation in high school between your college track and the apprenticeship track,” he said. “And apprenticeship leads to lots of good and high status jobs in Germany.”

It’s slowly catching on here. Presidents Joe Biden, Donald Trump and Barack Obama have all supported expanding apprenticeship programs. From 2012 to 2021, the number of new apprentices in the U.S. grew by 64%, according to the Department of Labor.

Major new federal investments in infrastructure and broadband are pushing unions to ramp up those programs in Connecticut and around the country. Union membership in Connecticut remains above the national average of 10.3%, though it declined in 2021 to 14.6%.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters runs Sikorsky’s pre-apprenticeships. The students pay dues as part of participating, and they’re matched with mentors who they work with side-by-side for the duration of the “Career Pathways” program.

Known as “interns” around the plant, some operate advanced machines that shape helicopter rotors and gears or work with composite materials to build the aircraft frames. Others work as electricians and mechanics on the assembly line, installing miles of wire and other components, and spending a few days on each aircraft. Shifts start at 6:00 a.m., and students earn $25 an hour for the duration of the eight-week program.

There’s a “family night” and an offsite “labor history day,” where the students learn about contract negotiating and take a class with union historian Karin Jones. At the end of the summer, the Teamsters hold a graduation ceremony.

George Mitchell, Sikorsky’s VP of operations, said the presence of so many inexperienced workers — and the investment of time by their mentors — hasn’t had a measurable impact on the plant’s productivity or costs. “For the most part, it multiplies our resources,” he said.

Shoring up defense

Major contracts with the Department of Defense are the driving force behind Connecticut’s manufacturing sector, generating thousands of jobs at the big three companies — Pratt & Whitney, General Dynamics Electric Boat and Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky — and thousands more at those companies’ suppliers. Statewide, defense spending makes up 8.2% of all economic activity. 

In acknowledgement of the importance of that economic engine, state lawmakers this year passed emergency legislation providing up to $75 million in tax incentives to Sikorsky if the company wins a pair of contracts to build “future long-range assault” helicopters for the U.S. Army. The new fleet is slated to replace Sikorsky’s iconic Black Hawk helicopters and other aircraft that the Army is phasing out. If only one of the contracts is secured, the state incentive would be up to $50 million.

In exchange, Sikorsky must maintain its headquarters and primary helicopter production in Connecticut through 2042, employ a minimum of 7,000 full-time workers (roughly the same number it employs now), spend at least $300 million annually with suppliers in the state and another $70 million a year on capital expenditures.

Upon graduation from college, you get a degree. Upon graduation from an apprenticeship, you have your career.


David Lehman, commissioner of the state Department of Economic and Community Development, said those requirements add “a layer of assurance” for Sikorsky employees and subcontractors that there will be steady work for the next 20 years.

“The first decade is the contract from the Army, and then building out the factory and the supply chain,” he said. “Then you have a much stickier economic ecosystem around these new helicopters. Really, the jobs in that second decade, I think, are where a lot of the economic benefit comes from to the state.” 

It’s not easy for a high school student to picture where they’ll be in five years, let alone 20.

But as young people in the state develop skills — via work-based learning, apprenticeships, certifications and other education supported by their employers — two decades from now, many members of Connecticut's Gen Z could attain some financial stability. 

Dave Tuttle, an instructor at Platt Tech who coordinates many of the school’s work-based learning programs, said there’s really only one group left to convince: parents. 

“They believe, like a lot of people in our society believe … that a college degree will automatically get you anything you want. No, it won’t,” he said.

This story was produced as part of the Higher Education Media Fellowship. The Fellowship supports reporting on career and technical education. It is administered by the Institute for Citizens & Scholars and funded by the ECMC Foundation.