Explore Bristol creates database of local manufacturing firms

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Once a hotbed of manufacturing, Bristol's economy has relied more on tourism in recent years. But the manufacturing industry has been making a comeback in town, and a community group known more for promoting tourism wants to know who's leading the way.

"We know they're there, but we don't know who they are or what they do," said Explore Bristol founder Michael Byrnes regarding manufacturing firms in town.

"There is no list of who they are," Explore Bristol member Charlie Cavalconte added.

Explore Bristol and the Bristol Economic Development Commission are working together to compile a database of manufacturers in town, and they're looking to the factories for help. They're looking to find out who the firms are, what they do and perhaps why Bristol is their chosen location. They're hoping the database will encourage other job-creating companies to head to Bristol, which Byrnes described as welcoming to new companies, especially smaller manufacturing firms that form the base of a local economy.

"The town is getting more business-friendly," Mr. Byrnes said. "A lot of it is attitude … making you feel good. Most companies are small, but they bring in good jobs. We're probably not going to reel in the big fish. The best thing we can do is make the little fish as successful as possible."

Some manufacturing firms in Bristol are already successful, following the long history of the industry in town, largely in the marine trades. An example of the bustling industry can be seen at Bristol Marine, which sits on the shores of Bristol Harbor near Colt State Park. The company provides more than boat storage, including mechanical repairs, painting, fiberglass repairs and rigging — "Anything to do with owning, maintaining boats we do here," owner Andy Tyska has said.

Marine manufacturing has changed since the days when the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company began building yachts and boats for the U.S. Navy in Bristol in the late 19th century. Now, instead of boat construction beginning and ending in one location, marine parts are more specialized, created in several factories then brought together for assembly, Mr. Byrnes said.

The specialization, while dividing the work among several companies, can lead to other innovations. For example, Bristol-based Clear Carbon and Components, which began as a custom boat manufacturing company, has spun its carbon fiber technology into other applications. Most famously, owner Matt Dunham's company has made a carbon fiber cello that has been played by no less than world-class cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

Other companies like Outer Limits Offshore Powerboats, on Minturn Farm Road, and Core Compsites Inc., on Tupelo Street, continue Bristol's boat making heritage and the spin-off firms they spawn, helping support nearly 1,000 jobs in marine trades in Bristol.

"There's a line of history that works in our favor, a historical thread," Mr. Cavalconte said. "The owners are highly invested in town."

The Explore Bristol members know there are more manufacturing companies in Bristol than those related to boating. The database has begun on the Explore Bristol website. Just one company — Tri-Mack Manufacturing Corporation — is listed so far, but Mr. Byrnes expects to add to the list soon. To add your company's information to the database, contact Michael Byrnes at mtbyrnes@sprynet.com.

"We do not have a good handle in Bristol  of our manufacturers - the point oft this exercise is to get a complete list and then promote them on the Explore Bristol and the Town of Bristol web site," Mr. Byrnes said. "At a minimum we all need to do a better job promoting the small but innovative and impressive manufacturing sector in Bristol."

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