MILLINOCKET, Maine — The local economy might be in decline with the loss of its two paper mills, but Millinocket Fabrication and Machine Inc. has increased its workforce from 22 to 28 workers over the last few months and is looking to hire three more machinists — if its owners can find them, said Ed Girsa, the company’s production manager.
“We are looking for probably two to three [machinists] to bring in at this point,” Girsa said Thursday. “It’s just to replenish our aging workforce. It’s not purely because of growth at this point. It’s more because we have to start planning for our future. It’s not immediate.
“We have two to three years before things start turning over, but we like to get those people in and training while our workforce is still here,” he added.
In fact, Millinocket Fabrication is in a period of growth, and there are aggressive efforts at diversifying beyond the regional economy, he said.
In June, the company received a $50,000 grant from the town and used the money to buy and upgrade a 10,000-square-foot building in which it will build more than 700 feet of 11-foot diameter penstocks for two Brookfield Renewable Power hydroelectric stations.
Penstocks are large piping systems that feed river or lake water into large electricity-producing turbines within dam structures. One dam under contract is located on Millinocket Stream in Millinocket, and the other is at Riverside Station in Gorham, New Hampshire. The penstock construction work is underway at the foundry and should finish in November, Girsa said.
Supporting Millinocket Fabrication with the grant money was an easy decision for the Town Council despite the town’s economic difficulties, according to council Chairman Richard Angotti Jr.
“It’s a local business, well established, and it is here to stay. It supports Millinocket,” Angotti said Thursday. “Those are the biggest reasons right there. They are one of our economic engines. They are a great business in the community.”
Millinocket Fabrication, which has been in business since 1906, has a 40,000-square-foot facility at 432 Katahdin Ave. The company specializes in the custom fabrication and machining of parts weighing up to 15 tons. The firm manufactures vacuum tanks, chambers, skid packages, groundwood products and machined components for the aerospace, automotive and semiconductor industries.
“Right now, this is one of the few places around here that is looking for young people,” said machinist Doug Knowlton, 58, of Millinocket. “I think this is a pretty good opportunity for anybody in the business.”
“We work very hard to expand our business beyond the local economy, and it’s not easy. It’s not something that I can say will take three months or six months. It might take us two years outside our main industry, but I think we will get there,” Girsa said.