OLD TOWN, Maine — Sparks flew Wednesday at the Sargent Corp.’s new welding and fabrication facility, as company president Herb Sargent announced a new contract to manufacture steel excavation shovels and other heavy-equipment attachments for the Austrian firm Wimmer Felstechnik GmbH.
To date, only five workers have been hired to work in the new plant, but Sargent said as many as 20 could be added to the company payroll in time.
In the 6,000-square-foot addition to the Sargent Corp.’s Bennoch Road equipment welding and repair shop, one worker used a computer-controlled “burn table” to cut precise shapes from massive sheets of three-quarter-inch steel. A 400-ton press brake rolled some pieces to be used as the curved bottoms of the excavator buckets.
The sections were then carried by an overhead trolley system to curtained welding stations at the far end of the building, where helmeted welders joined them into heavy-duty buckets to be used in excavation projects.
Despite a new ventilation system noisily exchanging fresh air for the smoky atmosphere of the shop, the acrid odor of burnt metal hung in the room like a fog.
Gov. John Baldacci toured the new facility Wednesday and congratulated Sargent on the construction company’s diversification. While politicians and policy experts devise strategies for improving the state’s economy, enterprising small-business owners play an essential “frontline” role in counteracting the dire fiscal climate, he said.
“If you added one person to the staff of every small business in Maine, it would go a long way” to counteract layoffs and closures at Maine’s paper mills and other large employer sites, Baldacci said. “And small businesses grow into big businesses.”
Also on hand was Old Town City Manager Peggy Daigle, who said the announcement is good news for Old Town, which has been hard hit by repeated layoffs at the former Georgia-Pacific paper mill, which is now called Old Town Fuel and Fiber. Though the number of new positions may be small, Daigle said the contract “helps make Sargent more secure and brings jobs and investment to Old Town.”
Sargent Corp., which specializes in earthwork construction, started in November to produce the heavy-duty excavator buckets and the connectors that attach them to the long arm of excavators. So far, about 20 buckets have been produced, but Sargent said demand likely will increase as the economy improves.
The agreement to manufacture the products for Wimmer grew out of the Old Town company’s longtime status as a customer, purchasing Wimmer buckets and other attachments for its own excavators from a manufacturing facility in Montreal.
Andreas Wimmer of Wimmer Felstechnik GmbH said in a statement issued earlier this week that Sargent’s role as a user of the company’s products will help ensure the practical design and application of excavator buckets and other heavy equipment attachments.
Sargent Corp. now is the only contracted manufacturer of Wimmer products in the United States. In addition to the Montreal site, Wimmer has production facilities in Salzburg, Austria, and Budweis, Czech Republic.