MEREDITH — During a visit to EFI yesterday, United States Senator Kelly Ayotte had ample opportunity to address two issues near the top of her agenda — assuring advanced manufacturers an appropriate workforce and reauthorizing the U.S. Export-Import Bank.
Scott Schinlever, senior vice-president and general manager of EFI's Inkjet Solutions division, explained that the company designs and manufactures wide-format digital printers and inks, together with the software to manage print projects, and exports about half of its output to customers in 140 different companies. The company employs 837 people, 350 of them in Meredith, where the printers are manufactured, of whom about a third are engineers. "We're the Microsoft of the Lakes Region," Schinlever remarked.
Recruiting employees with the appropriate aptitude and skills, particularly engineers, Schinlever said is "always a struggle." He noted that EFI finds itself competing with other advanced manufacturers in the state and region for a relatively small and rapidly aging workforce. He suggested that "we have glamorized the white collar jobs" and overlooked the rewards and opportunities of manufacturing employment.
Schinlever said that on the shop floor there are employees who started at $15 per hour with benefits who are now earning $100,000 a year.
Ayotte replied that she has heard the same from other advanced manufacturers across the state and has offered several proposals to encourage workforce development. With Senator Chris Coons (D-Delaware, she sponsored a bill to establish a competitive grant program that would distribute $100 million to states each year to fund initiatives to foster the skills required for manufacturing employment. She has also introduced legislation to designate 25 universities as "manufacturing universities", which would provide incentives to more closely align the content of classroom curriculum with the needs of advanced manufacturers. Likeise, Ayotte contributed to amending an education reform bill to encourage increased enrollment in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) programs in secondary schools.
Schinlever also asked about the future of the Export-Import Bank, which finances and insures overseas purchases of goods made in the United States when other lenders are unable or unwilling to bear the political or commercial risks inherent in the transactions. He noted that while EFI is the leader in its industry it lacks the capacity to finance the growing volume of its overseas sales, which he expected would represent 60 percent of its output.
Ayotte, a staunch supporters of the Export-Import Bank, explained that its authorization expired at the end of June and the Senate included re-authorization in a highway and infrastructure bill endorsed by a bipartisan majority. However, re-authorization has stalled in the House of Representatives, where it is opposed by many conservative Republicans for catering to special interests at the expense of American taxpayers. Ayotte said that she is hopeful that when Congress reconvenes the opposition in House can be overcome and the bank reauthorized.
Ayotte remarked that many companies in New Hampshire, like EFI, have urged her to support re-authorization and added that export markets are become increasingly important to the success of manufacturers in the state.
CAPTION: Scott Schinlever, senior vice-president and general manager of EFI's Inkjet Solutions division in Meredith, shows United States Senator Kelly Ayotte, some of furnishings, clothing and artwork printed on the company's wide-format digital printers. Save for a leather sofa, everything in the room — and 75 percent of the billboards in Times Square — was printed on one of its products. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/ Michael Kitch)