Click photo to enlarge
<B>Brian Dubie, a former Vermont lieutenant governor, left, listens as Dixie Zens of Abacus Automation speaks Thursday at the William Morse State Airport in Bennington.(Peter Crabtree)</B>
Brian Dubie, a former Vermont lieutenant governor, left, listens as Dixie Zens of Abacus Automation speaks Thursday at the William Morse State Airport in
Brian Dubie, a former Vermont lieutenant governor, left, listens as Dixie Zens of Abacus Automation speaks Thursday at the William Morse State Airport in Bennington.(Peter Crabtree)
Friday October 5, 2012

NEAL P. GOSWAMI

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- Local companies and others from around the state gathered at the local airport Thursday to learn of potential business opportunities with some of the major players in the aerospace and defense industries.

Local and state officials are hoping the Vermont Chamber of Commerce event will lead to new ventures for the Bennington area, which is looking to cement its place as the "Composite Valley." The Chamber's Vermont Aerospace and Aviation Association chairman, former Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, told the dozens of businesses represented, that the area, anchored by Kaman Composites, Plasan Carbon Composites and Plasan North America, is poised to lead growth in the area.

Potential local work

Several speakers at Thursday's event indicated there could be potential work for local companies in the near future.

Rob Scholl, the Cessna Aircraft Co.'s regional vice president for sales, said the company will be producing several new planes in the next few years, including one that is constructed completely with carbon composite materials. Cessna's $3 billion in revenue in 2011 is expected to grow as a result, he said.

"This is really a game changer for Cessna," Scholl said.

The new composite-made aircraft is being showcased around the country and Cessna is "getting a really strong order book," according to Scholl. The plane will travel at speeds up to 235 nautical mph, making it "a really, slick, fast airplane."

"There's going to be a lot of opportunities with a company like Cessna if you're able to help us grow as well," Scholl said. "There are going to be opportunities for people in composites with Cessna, not only with this product, but as we go along and have success with this, you'll see future opportunities as well with more composites."

Speakers with Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. and the Naval Undersea Warfare Center spoke of similar opportunities to join their supply chains for products they produce.

Ted Brady, a member of Vermont U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy's staff, said Leahy has been a strong proponent of the efforts in Bennington to boost the manufacturing of composite products in Bennington.

"You walk through businesses in Bennington and you see pieces of airplanes being made, pieces of cars being made, a lot of pieces of cars being made. And you see electronic systems for all these different modes of transportation being integrated. And you see some really cutting-edge, innovative stuff," he said.

Brady also said members of Congress on both sides of the aisle understand the impact that deep cuts to defense spending, that could take effect if Congress does not reach a deal on lowering the country's deficit, could have on the economy.

Although he said was not predicting that so-called sequestration will not take place, Leahy and "his friends on the other side of the aisle" understand the consequences.

The event Thursday also provided attendees a one-minute "commercial" time to address fellow attendees and explain their business' capabilities.

The Chamber's VAAA is dedicated to promoting job creating in Vermont in aviation and related industries. Chris Carrigan, the Chamber's vice president of business development, said it represents more than 200 manufacturers and supply chain partners in Vermont, and provides an online directory for companies looking to make business connections.

The group also hosts quarterly meetings like Thursday's event to directly connect Vermont companies to potential partners.