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New aerospace facility offers hope in Rochester

Union Leader Correspondent

July 18. 2013 8:46PM
Gov. Maggie Hassan, second from left, listens as Somersworth's Haley Corliss, right, explains how vacuum pressure enables resin to evenly coat flexible fiberglass during a grand opening for an aeronautics facility in Rochester. (John Quinn/Union Leader Correspondent)

ROCHESTER — After seeing so many manufacturing jobs move overseas, many in the area are finding hope in the opportunities surrounding a new local facility producing engine parts for the aerospace industry.

By the end of the year, Albany Engineered Composites (AEC) and Safran Aerospace Composites (SAC) will be putting the finishing touches on a new 343,712 square-foot plant in the Granite State Business Park near Skyhaven Airport.

After the production line is established, about 150 employees — 60 from Safran and 90 from Albany — will relocate to the new facility in August, according to Michael Rigalle, vice president of composites and general manager at the plant.

As a result, Rigalle said production will begin in September. He added they designed the plant to have room for more people and equipment, which will be gradually introduced.

"It's definitely a big space," Rigalle said, adding they plan to have a total of 500 employees working at the facility by 2018.

To help prepare for the possibilities, Great Bay Community College's Advanced Technology & Academic Center (ATAC), a 17,000 square-foot facility at 5 Milton Road — Route 125 — in the Lilac Mall plaza, opened May 20 and advanced composites manufacturing classes began June 17.

Later this fall, area residents can enroll in classes to earn a degree in a variety of fields, including marketing, math, psychology and history as well as a six-month program to prepare students for a career in the aeronautics industry.

Composites expert Andre Cocquyt said he's impressed by how well the first class of 18 students — aged 19 to 59 — have picked up the techniques. He added some student who were unemployed, underemployed or discouraged by their previous careers had to take on a new learning environment.

"I think for a lot of people who lost their job, they lost their confidence," Cocquyt said.

Cocquyt, who is president of ACSM Inc. — a composites consulting and training company — works with advanced composites manufacturing students at ATAC.

As an unemployed mother, Haley Corliss, 28, of Somersworth, said the program offers a very exciting opportunity.

"These are the skills that will get me a career," Corliss said.

At the end of the six-month program, Corliss hopes to find a job in computer numerical controlled manufacturing, which shapes the fiberglass molds to make engine parts at the new facility.

Peter Kimball, 59, of Ossipee, who previously worked in the printing industry, said the program is tough, but it offers him a chance of a lifetime.

"When I was laid off, I couldn't see myself getting into the hospitality industry," Kimball said, adding many of the jobs in his area involve tourism.

The advanced composites manufacturing curriculum was developed as part of a partnership between Great Bay Community College, Albany Engineered Composites and Safran Aerospace Composites. The venture will continue to grow and adapt as the new facility becomes operational.

During a grand opening ceremony earlier this month, Gov. Maggie Hassan praised the partnership that will bring high-tech manufacturing jobs to Rochester. She added the effort unified the Seacoast, which is becoming a draw for the aerospace industry.

"Our state is poised to make the Seacoast emerge as the composites location of the northeast," Hassan said.

Hassan, who met with the first class of students, was impressed by their hard work and dedication.

Rochester Mayor T.J. Jean, who welcomed Safran executives in French, said the city is proud to host ATAC, which is a state of the art facility. He added this important partnership between businesses and the community will "not only share our talents, but our culture as well."

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