BANGOR, Maine — Maine’s manufacturing industry is in the midst of a recovery after a difficult end to the last decade, according to business representatives who spoke at the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce breakfast Wednesday.
In 2005, Hinckley, a maker of luxury yachts, employed more than 200 workers at its production site in Trenton, according to plant manager Andy Fitzpatrick.
A few years later, the recession hit. By 2009 Hinckley employed just 20 people in Trenton.
”We’ve seen a resurgence in the market,” Fitzpatrick said during Wednesday’s forum. He said Hinckley has had to “reinvent” itself and focus on innovative, high-value products.
Hinckley’s Trenton facility now employs about 180 of the 450 people who work for the company at nine locations on the East Coast.
Tim Magoon, director of operations at Old Town Canoe, said during the forum that his company took big steps during the recession to reduce costs. In 2009, a year after the company cut hours for some of its employees, Old Town Canoe relocated from its historic Middle Street factory to a new facility on Gilman Falls Avenue.
The new factory tapped into natural gas lines and is less expensive to heat. It also includes energy-saving measures such as motion-detecting lights.
“It’s all about energy right now,” Magoon said.
Old Town Canoe gave the composite canoe industry its start in the 1970s and needs to continue to evolve and innovate, he said. Being ahead of the curve is key to survival in manufacturing, the speakers agreed.
John Karp, interim director of the Maine Manufacturing Extension Partnership, an organization geared toward supporting small- and medium-sized manufacturing businesses, also spoke at the forum.
Karp also is CEO of Lewiston-based Bourgeois Guitars, which crafts high-end guitars. The company makes only about 400 guitars per year, Karp said, and relies heavily on creating instruments that are unique and desirable because of their high quality and production standards.
Karp said that as the business climate improves and evolves, manufacturers will be searching for qualified engineers and craftsmen.
“I’d say manufacturing is a great place to look for a career,” he said. “It’s strong and getting stronger.”
Magoon and Fitzpatrick agreed. Both of their companies have reached out to universities, colleges and technical schools looking for qualified workers.
Hinckley, for example, has formed a partnership with Eastern Maine Community College, which announced a new woodworking and cabinetmaking program earlier this summer from which the yacht builder hopes to draw young, skilled workers, according to Fitzpatrick.
Maine businesses face significant hurdles to their success and growth, the businessmen said, particularly because of the state’s geographic location and high energy costs.
Innovation and forward thinking will be key to Maine’s manufacturers as they move into the future.
“I still say the most powerful tools are a whiteboard and markers” because they help ideas take shape, Fitzpatrick said.