ROCHESTER — About 40 people, including representatives from 20 local businesses, attended the first Seacoast Manufacturing Exchange on Wednesday afternoon.
The session, which is the first of several upcoming quarterly networking opportunities for manufacturers in the region, was positive and productive, said Mary Ellen Humphrey, economic development specialist.
"We kind of kept it small to get it right," Humphrey said, adding that organizers plan to improve or expand the sessions based on comment from participants. While most were from the Rochester area, the event attracted one company from Hampton.
Humphrey, who expects a larger crowd next time, said several companies offered to host sessions — which are scheduled for Jan. 8, April 9, July 9 and Oct. 8, 2014 — to help connect with others while showcasing their operations.
The first networking session offered a lot of potential for companies, said Mike Haley, of Thompson Investment Castings, which was one of the companies formed from Thompson Center Arms.
"Manufacturing is so time-oriented and business-oriented. Local is better," Haley said, adding companies can save time and money by working with local producers and distributors.
Nonetheless, Haley said he's frustrated because it's hard to find viable connections through mere "hearsay," rather than organized networking. He said he looks forward to helping create a manufacturing directory to identify potential partners in the Seacoast region.
"We're already working with local guys," Haley said. "There has got to be more."
Bill Johansen of Spaulding Composites in Gonic said he was looking to "establish synergy" or to create training opportunities with other businesses.
"It's nice to know what everyone is doing," Johansen said
The forum proved the value of networking with businesses across the Seacoast, which has the opportunity to strengthen if communities and companies work together, said Nancy Carmer, manager of the Portsmouth's economic development program.
"What I take away from this is manufacturing is alive and well in the Seacoast," Carmer said.
The venture created a lot of interest among businesses, which will probably participate in future sessions, said Dan Barufaldi, Dover's Economic Development Director.
"We feel very strongly that a rising tide lifts all boats," Barufaldi said, adding that Dover created an intern program to ensure future workers possess the necessary skills to succeed on the job.
Members of Great Bay Community College were also thrilled to hear about the needs of manufacturers.
"We look for the jobs that are available and train people to fill those jobs," said Debra Mattson, director/designer of Great Bay's Advanced Materials Manufacturing Program.
Mattson said the first advanced composites manufacturing class at the new Advanced Technology & Academic Center in Rochester will graduate in December. She said graduates will have the skills to work in highly skilled careers in the aerospace industry.
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