CHESHIRE — Darter Specialities has been doing business out of Cheshire for some 30 years – a long history that its current owners hope includes a bright future.
To mark its successful past and its commitment to innovating toward its future, Connecticut officials including Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz and State Rep. Liz Linehan (D-103) visited Darter’s Cheshire headquarters on the morning of Sept. 14 to talk about the importance of small- and medium-sized manufacturing businesses in Connecticut.
Joining in on the event were Town CouncilorsTim Slocum, David Borowy, Don Walsh, Sandy Pavano and Sylvia Nichols, Town Manager Sean Kimball, Town Planner Michael Glidden, Economic Development Coordinator and School Board Member Andrew Martelli, Cheshire Chamber of Commerce President Yetta Augur and others. Refreshments were provided by Old Bishop Farms.
Darter Specialties employs 35 people, all of whom assembled for a photo opportunity and to hear remarks from Bysiewicz and Linehan. As Chief Operating Officer Jeff Natale put it, they’re the ones “who make the magic happen.”
As Linehan characterized it, one important reason for the event was to encourage current students to pursue careers in manufacturing. She and Bysiewicz also spoke of collaborative efforts between high schools around the state and companies such as Pratt & Whitney.
“There was a thought in the past that manufacturing jobs were dirty, not well-paying. We’re working to help parents understand that that’s not the case,” Linehan said, “These jobs are not just jobs, but careers.”
Another group in attendance represented CCAT, the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology.
“We’re somewhat of a well-kept secret,” joked Jeffrey Crandall, a senior manager with CCAT, “and that’s not a good thing.”
CCAT exists, in fact, to help businesses such as Darter, he explained. As a state fiduciary, CCAT aides Connecticut businesses integrate and develop new technologies that assist their bottom lines.
“We can provide help in many different areas,” he added, including automation, inspection processes, Artificial Intelligence integration, and workforce development.
Crandall’s speciality – additive technology – was used at Darter to help make a process for printing branded luggage tags more effective, for example.
Darter’s services are varied, from in-house embroidery and screen printing, todirect-to-film transfers and UV printing. The business produces branded casual and work apparel, as well as uniforms for franchise operations, businesses, and educational institutions.
It also has a diverse workforce, as Bysiewicz pointed out during her comments. “I see lots of women and people of color,” she said.
“The future of manufacturing is bright here in Connecticut. It’s something that I’m very passionate about. We want more young people to go into manufacturing as a career, and to see it as a place to grow professionally, to be able to support a family,” she added.
Bysiewicz emphasized that Darter is a company where employees get the opportunity to work with STEM skills using advanced technology, but also using the artistic and creative aspects of their personalities. Also mindful of what she called the wage gap, she pointed out that manufacturing jobs are well-paying.
Bysiewicz remarked that around the state, there remain some 100,000 open jobs looking for skilled workers in manufacturing. “If there are young people you know who need a career, then spread the word that these are high-paying jobs.”
“You are the face of great career,” she stated.
Natale, along with CEO Guy Darter, led the group on a tour of Darter’s Cornwall Avenue facilities. These contain the offices where online orders are processed, along with the machines that print logos on objects such as water bottles and embroider shirts, or print uniforms for various companies across the country — including, Darter noted, UConn athletics.
Technology which was upgraded in part thanks to CCAT assistance now
allows Darter to print one shirt at time, or fulfill small orders for smaller-scale businesses.
That newfound flexibility, “gives us a tremendous edge in what we do,” Darter explained, as well as a quick turnaround for customers.
Linehan also took the opportunity to note a difference in what she called “investing versus spending.”
“Investing in these local businesses,” which was done in this case through DECD and CCAT, “shows a true return on investment,” Linehan said.