“Anything that rolls, floats or flies is becoming more and more made of composites,” notes Wendy Mackie, CEO of the RI Marine Trades Association.
Although their roots are in boatbuilding, composites companies are increasingly diversifying. Where once they primarily made hulls, now they manufacture all sorts of products like airplane parts, submarines, furniture, and cellos — anything that can be made lighter, faster, stronger, or prettier. The Rhode Island Composites Alliance, a new partnership of companies and stakeholders interested in growing this composites industry, is now promoting its growth through advocacy and education.
The talent base for Rhode Island’s composite manufacturing has been locally grown. “Eric Goetz is one of these early innovators, an early adopter of new and emerging technologies,” says Mackie. “He’s trained lots of people over the years and at least five of them have gone off and started their own businesses right here in Bristol.”
As the number of manufacturers expands, new workers need to be trained. The International Yacht Restoration School (IYRS) is bringing in new talent through its composites training program in Bristol. And higher education providers such as Brown University, University of Rhode Island, Rhode Island School of Design, and Roger Williams University are creating partnerships to grow their capacity to serve the composites industry.
East Bay alone is home to more than 35 companies that focus primarily on carbon fiber and fiberglass composite manufacturing. “There so many innovators and companies that are looked at internationally as the best of the best,” says Mackie. “They’re right here in Bristol – they’re right down the street.”