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N.H. Economic Development chief told lack of skilled labor holding back manufacturing job growth

NORTHFIELD — When Jeff Rose, commissioner of the Department of Resources and Economic Development, visited a handful of manufacturing firms in the Lakes Region yesterday he heard again and again that their growth and prosperity required the development of a skilled workforce.

"The shortage of skilled workers played like a broken record at each of our stops," said State Senator Andrew Hosmer (D-Laconia), who hosted the tour, together with Carmen Lorentz, executive director of the Belknap Economic Development Council. "Everywhere we went we heard business is good, but that finding qualified employees and applicants remains a real challenge."

Lakes Region Community College, where numbers enrolled in the degree and certificate programs in advanced manufacturing is rising, was the first stop, followed by visits to New Hampshire Ball Bearing, Mainstay Technologies, Eptam Plastics and Titeflex Aerospace.

At Eptam Plastics, President Jeff Hollinger told Rose that sales are running 7 percent ahead of last year and profitability is growing at an even faster pace. The company is currently weighing an opportunity to add $7 million or $8 million in new business, he said, adding that one of the considerations is "finding the people we need."

In 2003, when Eptam moved from Gilford to its 60,000-square foot facility at Riverside Business Park, some 70 employees were on the payroll working two shifts and this year 117 employees are working three shifts. Hollinger said that although the payroll has grown every year, if he could hire 10 skilled employees the consequent growth in business would generate another 10 jobs within a year.

Hollinger rejected the notion that the manufacturing sector is in decline. The cost models for outsourcing have proved mistaken and issues of quality have arisen, he said

Hollinger, who serves on the advisory board of Lakes Region Community College, noted that there has been renewed interest in manufacturing in the last two years. He stressed the importance of making young people — and their parents — aware of the opportunities and rewards of pursuing a career in manufacturing. He said that at Eptam the lowest hourly wage is $12 per hour while machinists earn "in the mid-twenties (per hour) or more." All employees receive a full range of benefits, including health, life, dental and long and short-term disability insurance. The company also invests in the training and education of its employees by providing tuition reimbursement.

Hosmer said that earlier in the day, Gary Groleau of New Hampshire Ball Bearing described the dearth of qualified employees as "critical" and heard much the same from Graham Thomson, general manager at Titeflex. Unlike Eptam, which is a local firm, other manufacturers in the region are affiliates of national and global corporations, which operate in myriad locations. "We must give them a reason to stay here and grow here," Hosmer said.

When Rose, who himself spent ten years in manufacturing industry with BAE Systems, a maker of electronic systems for defense, security and aerospace applications, asked what the state was doing well, Hollinger mentioned the tax credit for investment in research and development. He said that Eptam may spend $100,000 or $200,000 to develop develop a product and manufacturing process to expand its market and welcomed the Legislature's decision to double the credit.

"What can we do better? Rose asked. "Promote manufacturing in the schools and colleges," Hollinger replied without hesitation.

CAPTION: Jeff Hollinger (right), president of Eptam Plastics, explains the design and production of an artificial body part fashioned of machined plastic, to Jeff Rose (second from left), commissioner of Resources and Economic Development. Christopher Burley (far left), machined the product while to Rose's right State Senator Andrew Hosmer, Deb Avery of the Department of Resources and Economic Development, and Carmen Lorentz, executive director of the Belknap Economic Development Council accompanied Rose on his visits to manufacturers in the Lakes Region. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Michael Kitch)

Last Updated on Saturday, 10 August 2013 02:27

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Planning Board member told changing vote got her in hot water

MOULTONBOROUGH — At the request of three of its members, the Planning Board will hold a special meeting on Wednesday, August 14, beginning at 7 p.m. to discuss "the recent events that have led to the requested resignation of two members."

Tom Howard, chairman of the board, granted the request for the special meeting made by Paul Punturieri, Josh Bartlett and Judy Ryerson. Last month, the selectmen instructed Town Administrator Carter Terenzini and Town Counsel Peter Minkow to offer Bartlett and Ryerson the opportunity to resign or face a public hearing to determine if there is sufficient cause to remove them from office for "inefficiency, neglect of duty or malfeasance in office."

Both Bartlett and Ryerson have refused to resign. Last week, Terenzini said that he was arranging and scheduling a public hearing, the details and date of which will be announced early this week.

Meanwhile, an exchange of e-mails between Terenzini and Ryerson confirms that the proceedings against the two members arose from their conduct when, on July 10, the Planning Board approved construction of an observation tower on the east slope of Red Hill by Bob and Cathy Williams, doing business as Bear's Nest Trail, LLC.

The Williams family built the tower without obtaining the requisite permits and, after not seeking permission sought forgiveness, by asking the ZBA and Planning Board to approve the project after the fact. The ZBA granted a variance and referred the case to the Planning Board for a conditional use permit (CUP), which required meeting 11 criteria.

The minutes record that Peter Jensen, the acting chairman, "polled" the seven members of the board on the 11 criteria. Two of the 11 failed when the board split evenly — three-to-three — with Bartlett abstaining and Ryerson voting no. However, neither believed it was the best interest of the town to require the large structure be dismantled. Ryerson changed her "no" to "yes," breaking the stalemate in the "poll," and Bartlett offered a motion to grant the CUP, which carried five-to-two.

After Ryerson was offered the opportunity to resign, she e-mailed Terenzini seeking an explanation. In an e-mail, Terenzini replied by attaching the statute authorizing the selectmen to remove members of land use boards. Yes, I had found that statute," Ryerson answered. "What I want to know is the specific charges as they relate to my conduct."

In response Terenzini said that a letter giving notice of the public hearing was being drafted and added that "It will most likely include the cause of the hearing to be whether or not you were derelict in your duty and acted with malfeasance in the Bears Nest hearing when you found that the application did not meet two of the criteria and then, without substantial or credible explanation, changed your vote such that the entire board was able to vote in the affirmative on the CUP."

"I am surprised it is only that," Ryerson replied, then continued "I of course cannot be held to be derelict in my duties for voting, since that is my duty, or for changing my mind during deliberation, since that is integral to voting and change of mind is common." Furthermore, she noted that by changing her vote, she did not affect the outcome, since a majority of the board favored granting the CUP without her vote. Ryerson said that she explained her decision to the Planning Board.

In addition, Ryerson explained that because the tie vote could be taken to deny the CUP and the final vote to approve it, by changing her vote "I erased that contradiction without changing the final outcome." She said she had not offered this explanation to the Planning Board, but added "I would have been happy to explain that to anyone who would have chosen to ask. As it now stands," she continued, "I guess I will probably do it in a public forum, unless the Selectboard decides to save itself the public embarrassment of holding such a hearing."

Last Updated on Saturday, 10 August 2013 01:39

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Heroin in pill form among wide range of illegal drugs police recovered from Laconia couple's apartment

LACONIA — A local couple arrested in their Union Avenue home in a drug raid on April 4 were sentenced separately in July to serve a minimum of two years each in the N.H. State Prison.

A naked child found in 261 Union Avenue apartment shared by Courtney Rogers, 25, and Nicholas Phelps, 26, was removed to safety by police immediately after they breached the door.

Rogers will also serve a 12 month sentence in the Belknap County House of Corrections once she is released from state prison for endangering the welfare of a child.

Rogers faces up to 47 years in prison should she commit any offenses within five years of the sentencing date and Phelps faces up to 49 years should he re-offend.

Both are ordered to complete drug education and assessments when they are released.

With the cases against Phelps and Rogers now closed, the police file on their case became a public record. It says police found .23 grams of brown heroin and .29 grams of methamphetamine in the apartment, as well as 39.40 grams of cocaine and 25.01 grams of crack cocaine.  They also found marijuana, methadone, paraphernalia, and scales.

Rarely if ever seen in New Hampshire, police also found 109 blue pills marked as M 30 that the N.H. State Lab tested for oxycodone but learned the pills contained heroin instead.

Affidavits submitted to support cash bail in the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division indicated that many of the drugs seized at the apartment were within reach of the child when police entered.

Police reports said the raid was the result of three controlled drug purchases made during the two months leading up to Rogers' and Phelps' arrests.

Police also indicated in their reports that they waited outside of the apartment house for about five hours before making entry in the hopes that Rogers or Phelps would bring the child to preschool so she wouldn't be in the home during the daytime raid.

The door was breached with a battering ram and officers reported there was a floor-to-door security bar so they had to hit it a few times to get inside.

When the decision to enter was made, police had a representative from an agency that specializes in children waiting nearby. The detective who took the child from the house gave her to the representative and she was taken away for her safety.

Police also found about 200 unscratched lottery tickets most of which were $5 and $10 tickets. A detective reported he gave five random ticket numbers to an official with the N.H. State Lottery and learned the tickets weren't stolen. He said Phelps told him that he bought about 100 tickets daily with the proceeds from drug sales.

Phelps signed a form surrendering about $700 and the unscratched tickets to the Laconia Police Department.

Last Updated on Saturday, 10 August 2013 01:31

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Airplanes flying around LHS library at culimination of summer program

LACONIA — Students in a Laconia High School summer school program flew airplanes they had designed yesterday as part of the Electric Powered Cargo Plane Challenge.
The aircraft, powered by a small electric motor with a plastic propeller, were tethered to a power pole which supplied electrical power to the airplanes, which were controlled in the library by the students through a remote controller as they attempted to take off and land.
''It's a hands-on activity but the students have to use math in building the planes and calculating how much cargo they can carry,'' said Amanda Stefanik, educational coordinator for LHS summer school, which is a Project EXTRA! funded activity designed to afford after school and summer school educational opportunities.
Students design and construct an electrically powered model aircraft which must complete at least one flight lap without cargo and then they add weights and see if the aircraft can complete a lap with the added cargo.
Students were provided with a ready made fuselage as well as motor and landing gear, but had to design and build the wings and tail structure of the aircraft.
''It was pretty complicated,'' said Ryan Garneau, who chose an elliptical wing design for his aircraft which seemed to have problems providing enough lift to consistently circle around the power pole.
Noah Ford had more success with his aircraft, which had a trapezoidal wing design and was able to carry as many as nine of the half-ounce weights on a full lap around the power pole.
Stefanik said the cargo plane challenge will become a part of the school's learning activities and that students will be able to take part in regional and national competitions.

Last Updated on Friday, 09 August 2013 02:30

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