Published Date Written by Michael KitchLACONIA — Midway through Lakes Region Manufacturing Week, Carmen Lorentz, executive director of the Belknap Economic Development Council, said yesterday that the program to throw the spotlight on the opportunities offered by manufacturing firms, which anchor the regional economy, has exceeded modest expectations.
Together with the Huot Regional Technical Education Center and Lakes Region Community College, seven manufacturers — Titeflex Aerospace, Aavid Thermalloy, New Hampshire Ball Bearings, Freudenberg-NOK, Eptam Plastics, Scotia Technologies and EFI — are holding open houses and scheduled tours at their facilities during the week.
All are "advanced manufacturers," firms that apply sophisticated technologies, use complex materials and employ skilled people to produce a diverse range of products and components for a broad range of markets and industries. In the Lakes Region, advanced manufacturers employ approximately 4,000 people, representing about 10 percent of the workforce, whose average weekly wage of more than $900 is 36-percent more than that of all private and public sector employees.
Lorentz said that finding enough people with the aptitudes and skills to seize the opportunities these manufacturing firms offer is proving a challenge. The open houses and facilities tours, she explained, aim to dispel the perception that manufacturing jobs promise only a monotonous routine in return for meager wages in dreary, dirty, stuffy surroundings.
"We are trying to raise awareness in the community of the opportunities in manufacturing," Lorentz said.
The idea for manufacturing week, she remarked, sprang from Jodie Gallant of JMG Marketing, who recalled that several years ago when Eptam Plastics was seeking to recruit employees, the firm held an open house and found itself swamped with more than 300 visitors. So far this week firms have drawn between 40 and 50 visitors, Lorentz estimated, adding that "they are happy with number. Not too few, but not too many." She described the visitors as "a mixed bag" of people of all ages, including students contemplating the world of work, working people eying a second career, parents weighing the future of their children.
"When I tell you we struggle," said Mark Bartram, the plant manager at Aavid Thermalloy, welcoming a group for a tour, "we really struggle. This is not the dirty, greasy, minimum wage opportunity in manufacturing any more."
Begun on Court Street, where Aubuchon Hardware operated, in 1972, Aavid employs 1,700 at numerous facilities in North America, Europe and Asia. The company designs and manufactures thermal cooling solutions for electronic components with applications in a broad range of industries, including defense, aerospace, telecommunications, energy , transportation, medicine. During the tour Bartram displayed a small sample of "heat sinks" used on cell towers, magnetic resonance imaging machines, solar panels, locomotives and computers.
"This is a clean shop," Bartram said. Noting that the facility has been without an accident for 621 consecutive days, he pointed out that every incident, even a carton toppling from a shelf, is recorded. "Safety is our number one priority." All the waste, down to the water left from scrubbing the shop floor, is captured, treated and disposed of according to standards set by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Bartram said that these same standards are followed throughout the company, wherever the facility is located.
If the shop floor is not what it was generations ago, neither are the employees. "We have difficulty hiring employees with the right skill set," Bartram said, explaining that apart from computer programming Aavid looks for experience with computer-aided design, including "solid works" or manipulating 3-D models, and product engineering. Above all, the firm seeks those willing and able to continue learning to keep pace with rapidly changing technologies and processes. Bartram said that the company provides constant on-the-job-training and will pay for the cost of further education, including college, as long as the curriculum matches positions within the company, from engineering to accounting.
Stressing the dynamic character of advanced manufacturing and the importance of continuing training and education, Bartram told a handful of students from the Huot Technical Center "what you do today will not be what do do next year."
Lorentz said that all the participating firms compete successfully in the global marketplace, offer perhaps the most attractive employment opportunities in the region and have the potential for significant future growth. "The sky is the limit," she said. "The only constraint is finding the people to work."
Eptam Plastics in Northfield has tours scheduled for today at 9 a.m. and noon.
EFI in Meredith will hosts tours today at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
The Huot Technical Center at Laconia High School will hold an open house for its manufacturing program between 7:30 and 8:30 a.m. on Friday.
For more information visit www.BelknapEDC.org.
CAPTION: Mark Bartram, plant manager of Aavid Thermalloy, Inc., holds one of the myriad of heat sinks, products that cool all sorts of electronic products and components, manufactured at the company's facility at the foot of Primrose Drive, after hosting an open house during Lakes Region Manufacturing Week, sponsored by the Belknap Economic Development Council, whose executive director, Carmen Lorentz (right) joined the tour. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Michael Kitch)