New Hall of Fame honors manufacturers

John Ratzenberger speaks at Housatonic Community College, July 15, 2014.

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (WTNH) — A new hall of fame is opening in Connecticut to celebrate great local manufacturing firms. The inaugural class was welcomed in Bridgeport Tuesday with help from a well known Bridgeport native.

“Everything we do, every single day, relies first on somebody’s ability to put a nut and a bolt together,” actor and inventor John Ratzenberger said Tuesday.

The program at Housatonic Community College was full of surprises. Did you know Bridgeport native John Ratzenberger not only played Cliff Claven on “Cheers,” but also invented a biodegradable alternative to Styrofoam packing material? Plus he’s passionate about getting young kids into building stuff.

John Ratzenberger speaks at Housatonic Community College, July 15, 2014.
John Ratzenberger speaks at Housatonic Community College, July 15, 2014.

“Nobody waited until they were 18-20 years old to go into what they went into,” Ratzenberger said. “Thomas Edison didn’t say ‘hey, I want to go to light bulb school’.”

And did you know that with strings and a rubber band you build a paper cup pyramid without touching the cups? It’s one way these kids from local summer programs are learning about manufacturing skills. And it’s good to start them early.

“My parents had toys for me like Legos, erector sets, Lincoln logs,” journeyman toolmaker Ashleigh Amorando said, “and just building things, putting something together, creating something, having something at the end of the day in my hands where I can say ‘I made this’.”

Ashleigh and her husband James both went through Housatonic’s manufacturing program and are both part of the resurgence of technical manufacturing jobs in Connecticut.

“There is definitely a generation gap,” apprentice toolmaker James Amorando said. “For a long time you couldn’t have found guys who couldn’t have been my father in shops. Just that age and up just seemed to be who was in the work.”

Here’s another surprise. If these kids pursue manufacturing, they can have lucrative careers. One of the experts today says the starting salary for a welder these days is $80,000 a year.

And one more surprise, which is the reason all this is going on at HCC. Christopher McCormack of the Housatonic Community College Foundation announced the 2014 inaugural class of the American Manufacturing Hall of Fame.

Local manufacturing greats like Sikorsky Aircraft made the list, with Ratzenberger heading up the steering committee. And he wants everybody to remember “we have to get the school systems to stop assuming we’re all going to become poets. Someone’s got to lay the bricks.”

The American Manufacturing Hall of Fame 2014 inaugural class inductees:

The inductees will be honored at a special ceremony in October.

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