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Mike Cote's Business Editor's Notebook: High-tech summit to focus on labor, growth

By MIKE COTE
October 27. 2018 8:11PM
Hampton-based Brazonics uses robotics in its manufacturing process. This still is from a video used to promote the company's attendance at the Defence and Security Equipment International trade show in London in 2017. (COURTESY)



Mike Mastergeorge has the same thing on his mind as most manufacturing employers these days: Finding enough workers to keep up with growth.

The vice president and general manager of Hampton-based Brazonics will kick off the 16th annual Governor's Advanced Manufacturing and High Technology Summit next Friday with a few introductory comments to set the stage for Gov. Chris Sununu.

"It's a pretty good market right now for all of us," Mastergeorge said Thursday. "We just can't find enough employees to absorb it all. We would probably go faster if we could. It's probably number one, number two and two-and-half for us right now."

The summit runs from 7 a.m to 2 p.m. Friday, Nov. 2, at the Grappone Conference Center in Concord. The agenda features workshops on labor, growth strategies, robotics and education partnerships. The event is a joint program of the Business and Industry Association, the New Hampshire Manufacturing Extension Partnership, the New Hampshire High Tech Alliance and the state Department of Economic Development. (Visit nhmep.org for details.)

Hampton-based Brazonics builds chassis to house electronic parts used in military and commercial applications, primarily aerospace. (COURTESY)

Brazonics, an electronics company founded in 1960, has been based in New Hampshire since the mid-'90s, when it relocated from Amesbury, Mass. Last year, it became a subsidiary of avionics firm Rockwell Collins when that company acquired Brazonics' owner, B/E Aerospace. Brazonics employs about 120 people in Hampton. 

Mastergeorge, who joined Brazonics in 2007, has spent 25 years in manufacturing, including several years as a manager for General Electric. It's never been harder to find employees, he says.

"I don't know if some of it is the workforce that is interested in manufacturing is retired and there's not enough youth entering the operation, or if it's just general growth across the industry that's absorbed all the existing workforce," Mastergeorge said. "But absolutely we've never experienced anything like this."

Brazonics builds chassis - aluminium-brazed assemblies that hold electronics - for military and commercial platforms, primarily for aerospace. 

"That's what 90 percent of our applications in New Hampshire go into," Mastergeorge said. The company's products, which also are used in semiconductors, microwaves, drones and medical devices, are designed to keep electronic parts cool. 

In recent years, Brazonics has begun using robots in its manufacturing process, but they haven't made much of a dent in its labor woes.

"Most of our automation or robotics applications have been related to safety not so much productivity," Mastergeorge said. "We've got some pretty nasty processes (that involve) heat. We have to braise these things at eleven-hundred degrees Fahrenheit. It's nice to be able to keep the employees away from that by using robots."

Mastergeorge has high marks for the New Hampshire Manufacturing Extension Partnership, which leverages resources through a nationwide system of centers linked through the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology. Zenagui Brahim is president of the MEP.

"He is the guy I go to when I have problems to get solved. He knows everybody. He knows what's going on. He does a great job," Mastergeorge said. "I've actually been working with the MEP for better than half my career. I lean on them a lot for training and support, consultants, all kinds of stuff when I need it."

Increasing the ranks of the workforce continues to be hampered by the stigma that surrounds manufacturing as a career choice, says Dave Mansfield, chief executive officer of The Provident Bank, which sponsored October's Manufacturing Month in New Hampshire. 

"This is high tech. You need to be skilled, although you don't need the full college diploma," Mansfield said Friday. "It's a fantastic opportunity for young adults or people that are in a career change or just reentering the workforce to take advantage of some of the programs that are being put together."

The Manufacturing Extension Partnership launched a portal in February - nhmepworksource.com - for manufacturers to post jobs and internships that can connect them with middle school, high school and community college students. It also helps schools arrange visits to New Hampshire manufacturers.

It's a pathway that leads to good-paying jobs, Mansfield says.

"The different manufacturers that we've been in, it's great to see someone who started at entry level and then four years later or so they are supervisors," he said. "They're making a difference. They're helping to run these companies. It's all through some initial training - and a lot of on-the-job training after that."

Contact Business Editor Mike Cote at 206-7724 or mcote@unionleader.com.


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