Joe de la Cruz understands the manufacturing pipeline from start to beautiful, high-shine finish. His perspective is gained from 30 years in metal fabrication and its machinery, from the shop floor to management of Hillery Company in Groton. Mr. de la Cruz now brings that perspective to the state legislature as Representative for the 41st District.
Hillery Company, a family-owned business for over 60 years, does custom metal fabrication for a diverse client base in industries from defense to entertainment venues. Beginning as a mechanic at Hillery in 2006, Joe has worked the last six years jointly managing the company with Jesse Riley who also joined Hillery as a union worker.
The challenges small businesses are facing in Eastern Connecticut are the same as our major manufacturers, finding and retaining skilled labor, but with the added issue of competing with those larger employers.
“At the end of the day, it’s skilled labor that puts something on the pallet,” said Joe. The quality of the product and success of the business depend on finding the right people and getting them in the right positions.
To this end, Joe values the Eastern CT Workforce Investment Board programs and has supported bills across the state that promote interest in the field of manufacturing in all its aspects. The hands-on experience and training in the pipeline programs through EWIB are particularly important as long-term success in a field comes from enjoying the work. “People who love the job are the ones who succeed,” he explained, saying there are people who really thrive in the shop environment, love welding or have an interest in drawing or engineering.
Hillery Company supports hands-on learning through their work with Fitch High School’s FIRST robotics team, The Aluminum Falcons. Crafting parts for student-designed robots, Hillery engages with students and along with team mentors who come from area industries, helps expose them to the many jobs connected to manufacturing.
Success of Connecticut manufacturing is also connected to sourcing locally. Joe often finds the best product and the best pricing locally, especially when accounting for shipping costs. Hillery has developed strong relationships with Connecticut businesses that will last for the long-term.
Finally, Joe recommended businesses look at opportunities from the state. The Connecticut Manufacturing Innovation Fund Voucher Program where “eligible companies can apply for vouchers up to $50,000 for the purchase of specialized equipment and expertise that will help improve operations, including marketing, LEAN, compliance, and other technical needs,” according to their website ctmvp.ccat.us. The program requires a match, but the vouchers open opportunities that may otherwise be out of reach.
Joe sees a new urgency in the region’s response to the growing economy. He is excited to see that rather than just ride the wave while it lasts, businesses are looking for ways to enhance the current upswell and planning carefully for a successful future.