My dad worked at two auto dealers and one repair shop during his working life. He was the parts man, and at times the bookkeeper and shop foreman. These small businesses had gas pumps and he was likely the person to go out no matter the weather and pump gas.
His reward was cracked hands, especially fingers, in the winter. Although he never complained and, as I recall, didnít spend money on remedies, it was clearly a painful malady that returned each year.
For Bill Whyte in Gilsum, his cracked hands came from being a building contractor. And those hands led him to invent his first health care product, Badger Healing Balm for "relief for hard working hands."
Yesterday, I joined hundreds of visitors at the W.S. Badger Companyís new 23,000 square foot headquarters and manufacturing facility in Gilsum. What started with his first product in 1995, Badger Balm, with Bill selling store-by-store out of his green carpenterís van, and shipping off the dining room table, W.S. Badger is now a leading American producer of more than 70 natural and organic health care items.
W. S. Badger was recognized recently by Inc. Magazine as one of the countryís 5,000 fastest growing companies. There were a couple of dozen companies identified across New Hampshire but Badger was the only company in the 8th state senate district to be on the Inc 5000 list this year.
The company sells worldwide and their products are found in many of our nationís premier retailers including grocery stores and sporting goods chains. All products are produced in Gilsum except for sunscreens and lip balms which are formulated by Badger and containers are filled by partners in Iowa and Vermont.
Some will remember news in the last couple of years about the ineffectiveness and potential adverse reactions some may have to traditional, popular sunscreens. With that news, many consumers looked for lotions made from natural ingredients. Badger had a custom formulated zinc-oxide based sunscreen ready and it quickly became the category leader in natural suntan lotions. Billís wife Katie told me sales of sunscreen products over the last year helped the company double its size.
Three or four years ago the Commissioner of the Department Resources and Economic Development, George Bald, and I toured Bill Whyteís operation then located in a couple of tightly packed buildings in Gilsum. Today, Bill and his 35 full time employees work in a new building built "on old New England Mill Building principles" using many recycled products and wood locally sourced. The site is an exhausted gravel pit and as one visitor said, "the new building looks like it grew into the woods" surrounding it.
I used much of my column this week to tell some of the story of a homegrown business, making products sold around the world, recognized nationally for its success and led by a man and his family who are committed to staying and growing in our region. I think it is a good story.
Statewide headlines last week heralded the $19.9 million grant from the United States Department of Labor to the Community College System of New Hampshire. Local headlines noted that $1.2 million of that grant would be coming to River Valley Community College for new advanced manufacturing education programs.
What was not in the stories was the role of River Valley in the application process. In an email to me, Shannon Reid, the director of communications for the community college system, wrote "we certainly pointed to the success of the work River Valley CC has been doing with Upper Valley and Monadnock employers, and we believe that model and positive experience was a major strength of the grant (application) . . ."
Ms. Reid also noted that it was important to federal granters "that the state had already committed an appropriation in the state budget for advanced composite manufacturing training programs." About a year ago, I attended quiet meetings in Concord and at the Pease Trade Center with the Governor, Commissioner Bald and others about the potential job-producing value of the state having a composite manufacturing training program.
While only generally understanding the composite manufacturing process, I do understand the job-producing capacity a skilled work force in an area can provide. A $2 million line was put into the budget by the Governor for the training program. And while the overall state contribution to the Community College System was reduced, this line in the budget was retained in both the House and Senate versions of the budget.
It is easy to be discouraged by what we see going on in Washington or Concord. Behind the scenes in Concord there are, from time to time, examples of real initiative and good policy decisions that will benefit the state for decades to come. The story of government officials and private sector employers working together on this composite manufacturing training program is one of those accomplishments.
All of us living on this side of the state know the impact Hurricane Irene had on Vermont and some areas of our north country. There were other damages, too, that got less attention. At the monthly meeting of the State Parks Advisory Council on Monday it was reported that state parks lost income due to the hurricane of $312,000 and had damages to facilities of $400,000.
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