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Manufacturer Expands to North Country
 
Published Tuesday, March 14, 2017
by ERIKA COHEN


From left: Benoit Lamontagne, NH Division of Economic Development; Bob Chapman, Groveton site owner; Jim Moroney, CEO of NSA Industries; and Michael Bergeron, NH Division of Economic Development, at the Groveton site. Courtesy of NSA Industries.


At their height, the paper mills in Groveton employed more than 1,000 people. By 2005, the workforce had been slashed to 400, and in 2007, the mills shut down, leaving the 137-acre site filled with rubble and empty buildings. But now the site will be rejuvenated with its first tenant in a decade.

NSA Industries, a machining, sheet metal fabrication and powder coating business, based in St. Johnsbury, Vt., is crossing the border and adding to its two Vermont locations with a NH facility opening this month. The company has grown 100 percent in the last seven years and now employs 250 in Vermont and Massachusetts, most of them in manufacturing jobs. NSA Industries is leasing a 73,000-square-foot building and will employ at least 40 at the NH site by April. Already, 25 of those people were hired and began training. And that is just the beginning.

“There is no question we see a clear path up to 60 people,” says CEO Jim Moroney. “How quickly that happens depends on the training and the rate we migrate the work [from Vermont].”

There are approximately 20,000 sheet metal fabrication businesses nationally like NSA, but Moroney says NSA is among the 20 largest. NSA purchases 18 tons of sheet metal per day and ships 50,000 individual pieces daily. A few years ago, though, it had growing pains. “One facility [in Lyndonville, Vermont], when we acquired it in June 2014, we had half the space available for expansion. By June 2016, it was all filled, so we were out of space. We have various opportunities for growth but without space you can’t do it,” Moroney says.

Moroney first looked at the Groveton site about six years ago to build a new plant, but it was not ready for a business at that time, as the site did not have sewer and water. But when Jon Freeman, president of Northern Community Investment Corporation, who knew NSA’s business well, told Moroney the site was cleaned up, developed and improved, Moroney gave it a second look.

A Solid Business
NSA Industries has two core business lines: sheet metal fabrication and machining. Moroney says he plans to move sheet metal fabrication and assembly jobs that don’t require powder coating to NH.  Work that involves powder coating operations will
remain in Vermont as the equipment is there, and it is not efficient to fabricate and assemble the parts in one plant and ship them to another for coating. “The plan is to move certain operations there, which will alleviate the logjam we have here [in Vermont]. It also opens up space for the opportunities we have coming,” Moroney says.


A fiber laser at NSA Industries. Courtesy of NSA Industries.


A new management team, including Moroney, was brought in to lead the company seven years ago by the company’s investors to improve operations. Since then, the company has invested $11.5 million to upgrade equipment, including $3 million worth of equipment in the last three months for the Groveton facility.

And, while NSA’s core business has historically been split between fabrication and machining, fabrication has grown to be a larger part of the business. Assembly services, always part of the mix, have also taken off. Moroney says NSA’s growth is driven by it being a one-stop shop. A product can be engineered, machined, fabricated, assembled and coated there, and that has helped attract a larger customer base, primarily in New England. The job shop serves many industries, including medical and science equipment, commercial food, solar and garden equipment. “We’ve begun doing quite a bit more assembly to the fabricated parts,” he says.

The jobs NSA will bring to NH will include machining, fabrication, supervisor roles, and quality control and will pay above minimum wage, offer benefits and have opportunities for growth, though Moroney declined any details. When fully operational around April, the Groveton plant will have two shifts. The net effect for Groveton could be substantial. The population is just over 2,100, and the labor force had 324 people as of the first quarter of 2016, equally split between government and private employment. The average weekly wage is $584.41 or $14.60 per hour.

“The state of New Hampshire is really pleased to be welcoming NSA to the state and in particular to our North Country. I think this is a very positive sign; one, not only that they chose New Hampshire; two, that they recognize that there is a skilled, capable and ready workforce that can meet the company’s needs,” says Jeff Rose, commissioner of the NH Department of Resources and Economic Development.

Rose says the company may benefit in the future from a number of NH programs to incentivize growth including the Coos County Job Tax Credit and the Economic Revitalization Zone Tax Credit, both of which the company could consider once
it opens.

Making the Case
Before committing to Groveton, Moroney wanted proof that if he built it, they would come—meaning qualified employees. So NH’s business recruiters in the North Country, Michael Bergeron and Benoit Lamontagne, worked with other state officials to organize two job fairs in September 2016, and Moroney sent Ed Stanley, the vice president of operations for NSA, to check them out.

Stanley asked Lamontagne how many people he expected at the first job fair. “You know what Ed,” Lamontagne told him, “I’d be disappointed if we don’t have 120 people.” Stanley thought this was between the two days. Lamontagne meant the first day.

The job fair started at 3 p.m. They had 100 people by 5 p.m. and 167 by 7 p.m. Over the two days 307 job seekers attended. “What I’m most pleased about is when I first met Ed, they said they were looking for about 40 people. The day we got to 307, they said we’ll boot this up to 60,” Lamontagne says.

But securing a commitment from NSA took more than a few well-attended job fairs. Lamontagne and Bergeron also worked with state and local officials on basic services. Having been vacant for a decade, the site had no water or sewer. So Lamontagne and local officials worked to convince residents at the 2016 town meeting to approve raising $400,000, an amount to be matched by an economic development grant, to extend sewer and water to the park.

“Since then we now have a couple other businesses seriously looking [there],” Lamontagne says. Lamontagne's efforts will be helped by Wireless Partners LLC, which is working with Verizon to bring its 4G LTE network to the North Country to offer high speed broadband and cellular service. The first phase of the project provides 4G LTE service from four tower sites, one of them in Groveton.

This is all good news to Bob Chapman, who owns the site and has a demolition business. Over the years he has invested $2 million in cleaning it up. Chapman will be paid back when the land is developed and leased or sold.

Moroney’s role may just be beginning. He says the initial 73,000 square feet may not be enough. “There are certain [opportunities] we see on the horizon that may require us to talk to Bob Chapman about further expansion. We don’t think the 73,000 square feet we are going to occupy will be able to handle everything that could come to fruition.”


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