Young engineer buys, plans to triple number of workers at York County manufacturer

Posted Sept. 11, 2012, at 6:30 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 12, 2012, at 6:29 a.m.

LIMINGTON, Maine — A 29-year-old mechanical engineer has purchased a struggling manufacturing company in York County with plans to triple its number of employees over the next four years.

The Maine Department of Economic and Community Development announced yesterday that Michael Hanes is opening a manufacturing facility in Limington. However, Hanes is not opening a new facility. In June, he created a corporation called Archer Machine and last month used it to purchase Metal Works Inc., a precision machine shop in Limington. Hanes did not disclose the purchase price.

Metal Works never closed, but it struggled during the recession. “The last few years were really tough on all the machine shops around here,” Hanes told the Bangor Daily News. The recession, coupled with personal reasons, prompted the former owner to sell the facility and its assets to Hanes.

Purchasing a precision machine shop was “the logical next step in my career,” Hanes said. Born in Pennsylvania and educated at Alfred University in New York, Hanes moved to Maine six years ago. He’s a mechanical engineer by training and for the past five years has worked on research and design engineering at Cameron International, a Texas-based company that operates a small manufacturing facility in Limerick.

At the moment, the company is doing business as Metal Works, but Hanes likely will rebrand the company as Archer Machine at some point. He plans to continue its precision turning and milling work and serving customers in the defense, power generation and water industries.

And he plans to grow. He’s initially investing $600,000 to refurbish the facility. He has started hiring new people. The company currently has six employees, but Hanes said he’d like to have between 15 and 20 within the next four or five years.

“We’re thrilled,” Lisa Martin, executive director of the Manufacturers Association of Maine, said of Hanes and his plans for Archer Machine. Hanes “has a wealth of experience and has growth plans for the company,” she said. “They’re in excellent shape and have great market share. Any time we see a company being bought and continue to grow, it’s fantastic.”

While the number of manufacturing jobs in Maine has fallen over the years — from 59,313 in 2007 to 50,768 in 2011, a decline of 14 percent, according to the Maine Center for Workforce Research and Information — many high-tech manufacturers like Archer Machine have been adding jobs, just not enough to make up the losses of more traditional manufacturing jobs.

Hanes already has reached out to Southern Maine Community College, which has a machinist training program, to express interest in creating a relationship and potentially recruiting the program’s graduates in the future.

“Advances in manufacturing technology have created tremendous career opportunities,” DECD Commissioner George Gervais said in a statement. “The challenge continues to be bridging that gap between what businesses need and what they have available to them in terms of a workforce.”

As he gets his business up and running, Hanes has been working with the DECD to identify beneficial incentive programs. Hanes is benefiting from the Pine Tree Development Zone program, which includes a reimbursement of a portion of their new employees’ Maine income tax withholdings and the waiving of state sales tax on purchases related to building maintenance and improvements. He won’t know how much money the incentives will save him until the end of the year, he said.

Hanes said the most challenging aspect is knowing whom to call at the state level. He said the DECD has been helpful throughout the process, but admitted the department “could be more helpful and more forthcoming” by providing roadmaps that business owners could use to make sure they’re hitting all the necessary bases.

“There’s not anybody that will give you answers unless you know what questions to ask,” he said.

Challenges aside, Hanes said starting his first business has been an amazing experience. “The first week was completely crazy,” he said. “Now I’m actually settling in and am really, really enjoying what I do.”

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