George Bald, Commissioner of Resources and Economic Development (DRED), and I toured five local manufacturers on Thursday. We were accompanied by Mike Vlacich, director of DRED’s division of economic development and James Robb, the division’s resource officer for our region. Not only do I enjoy plant tours, I also find them very educational. When you drive by a manufacturing facility, you have no idea of what is going on inside that building. But touring a plant with top managers can give you a new perspective. I can summarize very simply what we saw in our plant tours in Claremont, Gilsum and Newport: there is a tremendous amount of talent, experience, investment, dedication and ingenuity in the manufacturing operations we visited.
Newspaper headlines last week noted the plans of
to shut down their Claremont
operations and shift the work to their home base in
Four of the plants visited on Thursday are doing fine. Another is bearing up as their sector in the economy is way down. From lip balm and hand cream to steel fabrication for beams and structures for bridges, our tour demonstrated the diversity of manufacturing in our region. One business in just over a decade has gone from $11,000 of sales in the first year to nearly $5 million last year. It’s the work of a very innovative entrepreneur who has created a product line sold across the country with 20% or so of sales made overseas.Two of the companies have recently been acquired by larger, international companies that have had a positive impact on local operations.
From our tour I came away with a couple of key impressions. The leadership of the businesses we visited is extraordinary. Every one of them make manufacturing exciting as if to say that every day is a great to be at work at their business. That is not to sugar coat the impact of the ups and downs of the economy, but to note that the leaders are creative in solving problems right on their plant floors and developing new ways of making their products.
But workforce issues remain. One small, very entrepreneurial company has decided not to add new employees because of difficulty in finding men and women with “life skills.” To this manufacturer of precision parts for the military and aerospace industries, “life skills” means coming to work on time every day staying substance free.
I hear this complaint over and over again about younger employees not having the discipline and “life skills” to be productive workers. This problem will grow as many current workers are moving into their retirement years and we need people to fill their places. We all have a stake in the quality of our incoming workforce if we are to have a strong, stable and growing economy.
The other workforce issue is training. We know that workers will do many different tasks over their careers as technology and product lines change. But essential math and reading skills are critically important to getting started. Companies expect to provide some training for their new employees but they must count on young people to come into their businesses with a base of computer, math and reading skills. There is plenty of opportunity for new workers but they must acquire basic skills and be prepared to have the “life skills” every employer expects.
My thanks to the management teams at W. S. Badger Company, Customized
Over a fine October weekend, not only was talk of the Red Sox a part of nearly every conversation, there were fall festivals and events in our region from Claremont to Warner. I spent part of Saturday behind the counter at the Washington Historical Society’s “cafe” at Mirage Alpacas, the farm of Bill and Audrey Rhodes. Mirage Alpacas is one of the five stops on the Wool Arts Tour. All the burgers, sausages, and kabobs along with the chili and stew were made from locally raised lamb. While a lot of volunteer effort goes into the historical society’s café, customers on the Wool Arts Tour seemed very appreciative.
This was the 24th year for the Wool Arts Tour.
Hundreds of people travel from one farm or studio to another,
looking over the animals and buying some of the locally produced works by
local fiber artists. At the
Rhodes’, for example, there were nine local vendors offering hand spun yarns,
fleece and unique wool clothing. I
talked with people from all around New England who traveled to
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