The war in Iraq has had a profound effect on Connecticut’s economy in the last decade. As WNPR’s Harriet Jones reports, it has vastly increased the importance of the defense industry.
Connecticut has always had a strong reliance on the Department of Defense, but Pentagon spending here acquired a new importance in recent years.
“You’ve seen about a threefold increase since 2003. That’s an enormous number and it’s an enormous part of our state’s GDP.”
Bob Ross, a Navy veteran, runs the state’s Office of Military Affairs. He says the jump in military spending here, from five billion dollars in 2003 to almost 17 billion in 2011, came because Connecticut was making the right things at the right time.
“Sikorsky produced Black Hawk helicopters - that was the workhorse for the ground forces. Pratt & Whitney was making jet engines for the tactical aircraft that we were sending in there. And submarines were playing a key role. Those things taken together, that worked out well for our defense industries in Connecticut.”
For a small state, Connecticut punches above its weight. It ranks third in the nation per capita, in terms of how many military contracts are awarded here. The effects of the ramp up over those years weren’t felt only by big employers like United Technologies and Electric Boat, but also by their literally thousands of smaller suppliers.
“These big acquisition programs have multiple tiers of subcontractors. And they’re spread throughout the state of Connecticut - they’re even spread throughout the country. There’s a ripple effect that knows no borders.”
Ross says it’s no surprise that with the American withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq, and a drawdown in Afghanistan, defense spending will also begin to decline. In fact Connecticut did see a drop of more than two billion dollars in 2012. But he says,
“The question is, are we going to manage this process in a smart way, or are we going to do it in a reckless way.”
For reckless, read sequestration. For smart read, the Pentagon’s strategic plan, which still retains a focus on many of the products that are made here. For a state like Connecticut, where Pentagon spending amounts to ten percent of our economy, the answer to the question may be crucial.