CAMDEN, Maine — A New Mexico-based businessman said Wednesday morning that he’s working hard to keep the jobs of 29 people he hired in January when he purchased an ailing Camden miniature microphone manufacturing plant.
John Rockwell, president of Sierra Peaks Corp. of Albuquerque, N.M., also said that a news release issued Wednesday by the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development might have been a little premature when it announced he will be investing more than $3 million in the former Intricon Tibbetts facilities.
“I probably will, but it makes me nervous to say that’s what’s going to happen,” Rockwell said about the financial investment. “Sales are down from where they’ve been and where I expected them to be. I’ve got some serious challenges.”
In the news release, Gov. Paul LePage commended Rockwell for his substantial investment in Knox County.
“My administration stands ready to demonstrate to the company that Maine deeply appreciates its investment and will work hand-in-glove with them to make certain that they are able to grow and thrive in our state,” he said.
One of the investments that Rockwell said he eventually intends to make in Maine is to purchase the manufacturing buildings which he has been leasing from a local company.
Sierra Peaks Corp. purchased Intricon Tibbetts in January, after then-owner Intricon Corp. of Arden Hills, Minn., announced it would close the facility and shift the work overseas to Singapore, causing local job losses — unless a buyer could be found.
Brian Hodges, Camden’s development director, said Wednesday that the remaining employees courted a buyer from within the same business sphere, and attracted the attention of John Rockwell.
“It’s a fantastic deal,” Hodges said of the purchase. “We’re just so lucky.”
The tiny microphones made in Camden are used for a variety of purposes, and the American government has been one of the chief customers. The company was founded in Camden in 1945 by Dr. Raymond Tibbetts, a local inventor. In 2007, when it was purchased by Intricon, it had 85 employees, down from a high of 130. Within a year of the purchase, the company began shifting more of its production overseas.
Intricon announced in late 2012 that it would close the facility unless a buyer could be found, Hodges said. At that time, 50 people worked there.
“They’re now down to 29,” he said, adding that the company’s success is very important to the community. “They’re really our last manufacturer we have here. Manufacturing oftentimes moves away. To be able to retain that [is important]. He’s actually looking at growing the business and adding to it.”
According to Hodges, the company employs different types of workers, from people doing the assembly of the microphones to electrical engineers and more.
“There’s really quite a range of jobs and skill levels located right here in Camden, with good paying jobs with benefits,” he said.
Rockwell has been coming to Maine “pretty much every month,” Hodges said, and plans to keep doing that for awhile.
The new owner introduced himself to the Camden Select Board in February, saying that he wants to grow the company as much as possible.
“I’m not a venture capitalist who builds a business and then sells it and makes a bunch of money,” Rockwell told the board. “I create an environment where people can strive and I want that environment to stay for a long time … It’s my gamble, and I’m gambling on Camden.”
The company that now is Sierra Peaks began in 1960, when several match company employees bought Missouri Research Laboratory in St. Louis. Over the decades, the name and mission changed. Since 2000, when Rockwell purchased the company and renamed it, it has grown to include a broader engineering and technical skill set, including mechanical, electronic and textile manufacturing. It also has expanded to a 25,000 square foot facility in Albuquerque, N.M., and a 1,500 square foot office in Fairfax, Va.
BDN writer Stephen Betts contributed to this report.