BRIDGEPORT — “Manufacturing Mania” came to Bridgeport last month.

The event, part of the “Connecticut. Dream It. Do It.” campaign, attracted close to 400 middle school students from Bridgeport, New Haven and West Haven to introduce them to advanced manufacturing.

Held at the Webster Bank Arena during Manufacturing Month, the event offered technology demonstrations and hands-on activities. Students worked to build a model carnival ride as quickly and accurately as possible and designed and produced custom-ordered ice cream sticks — as well as an opportunity to meet with area manufacturers.

“Connecticut. Dream It. Do It.” is a part of a nationwide campaign by the Washington, D.C.-based Manufacturing Institute to improve the image of modern manufacturing, funded in Connecticut by the Department of Economic & Community Development (DECD) and administered by the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology (CCAT).

Karen Jarmon, senior communications advisor with CCAT, says her group is working with manufacturers in the state to ensure there are enough new workers going through the manufacturing pipeline to address ongoing challenges to maintain a well-trained workforce.

She says reaching students when they are still in middle school is critical in shaping their perceptions of the manufacturing industry and putting manufacturing on their radar screens as a potential career choice.

“In the seventh and eighth grades, students are just making decisions about their career interests or which high schools they want to go to. We want to give them the opportunity to experience how high-tech manufacturing is today and what careers are like now,” Jarmon says.

“Perceptions on manufacturing — that it’s dark, dank and dangerous — have lingered for a long time,” she adds. “The environment is completely different today. The students are not as set in their perceptions in the middle school grades as they might be in high school.”

Ten of the twelve participating schools over the two-day event were from Bridgeport, but 30 students each from New Haven’s Davis Street Arts & Academics Magnet and West Haven’s Bailey Middle schools also took part. The event also featured remarks from Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch as well as Eryn Bingle, a representative of U.S. Rep. Jim Himes’ (D-4) office.

 GROTON — The defense industry continues to be a cornerstone of Connecticut manufacturing, as nuclear submarine maker General Dynamics’ Electric Boat division plans to expand its Groton headquarters.

The $31.5 million project will allow the company to add up to 200 new workers to its 8,700-strong workforce. The state’s Department of Economic & Community Development (DECD) will aid the expansion with a $10 million loan, which is completely forgivable if it hires those 200 new employees within 24 months.

The company expands to accommodate increased hiring and industry demands. The U.S. Navy awarded Electric Boat a $17.6 billion contract in April to construct the next order of Virginia-class submarines.