How N.H. businesses can offer Gulf firms a helping hand

If Gulf Coast businesses hurt by the Hurricanes Katrina and Rita want help manufacturing their products up north while they rebuild down south, Don Welch says he can lend a hand.

Welch — president of Micro-Pak in Gilford, which uses CNC (computer numerical controlled) machining centers to machine and grind parts – said his firm would be “glad to help.”

He said Micro-Pak currently has capacity and open machine time. “If they can’t operate because their businesses are closed, and they’d like to subcontract to us so they’re not in trouble with their customers, we’d be receptive to it,” he said.

Welch is among several New Hampshire businesspeople offering to help Gulf Coast businesses rebuild by renting out their extra manufacturing capacity.

Mark St. Gelais, owner of Stamping Technologies Inc. in Laconia, also said he is operating at 80 percent capacity and could add an extra shift to help bail out a storm-battered Gulf business.

“We don’t currently run a second shift, but if we had the work, we probably would,” said St. Gelais. “We’re a custom manufacturer. I don’t know what factories down there got devastated, but we’d be willing to help out. I’m sure there’s excess capacity in quite a few New Hampshire manufacturing plants. It’s just a matter finding out who has excess capacity and who needs help.”

Eliza Leadbeater, executive director of the Belknap County Economic Development Council, said she came up with the idea during a business lunch in the hurricanes’ wake. Leadbeater’s suggestion was for New Hampshire businesses to bail out their Gulf Coast counterparts by offering them extra shifts or manufacturing capacity as a service until they are up-and-running again so they don’t lose clients.

“The question that came up was how many New Hampshire businesses were hurt because they have a relationship with a Gulf business, and could New Hampshire businesses reach out and help Gulf businesses with extra capacity or the ability to put on an extra shift?” Leadbeater explained. “If it takes three months to clean up, they’re losing potential orders. Meanwhile, many of our companies have the capacity to run another shift. We could provide homes to these businesses until they can start cleaning up.”

If the idea stirs enough interest, Leadbeater said, she wants to bring it to the state Department of Resources and Economic Development. “Maybe we could create some synergies between companies, provide space, run another shift to help them so they don’t lose their clients, and possibly help them do business up here. If these folks in Louisiana can’t produce, their stuff is probably going to go offshore.”

Business ties to Gulf

Leadbeater stipulated that her idea has nothing to do with “poaching” on Gulf Coast businesses — an issue the International Economic Development Council issued a strict warning about recently.

The Washington, D.C.-based economic council’s board of directors on Oct. 14 unanimously approved a resolution condemning “poaching” by economic developers on Gulf Coast businesses by luring them away from the Gulf Coast.

“As Gulf Coast communities undertake recovery efforts from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the International Economic Development Council considers any business recruitment activity away from impacted communities to be highly unethical,” the council warned in a statement.

But Jill Frick, a spokeswoman for the council, said, “There is a key difference between targeting business for permanent relocation and offering temporary interim assistance with the idea that a business would maintain its location in the Gulf region.”

And Leadbeater, who is a member of the International Economic Development Council, said “poaching is something nobody in economic development wants to take place. We’re not talking about that. We’re talking about providing temporary business assistance so they can get back on their feet.”

Leadbeater’s idea comes amid a seeming dearth of official data on the numbers of New Hampshire businesses affected by the hurricanes and the number that could offer help in the form of extra shifts to help Gulf Coast businesses survive.

So far, DRED spokesman Steve Boucher said, the department does not have a count of the number of New Hampshire businesses affected by the hurricanes.

“We have not heard much in this regard,” said Boucher. “I’m sure businesses have been affected, but from our perspective, it’s just out there.”

Meanwhile, Boucher said, Stonyfield Farm, the Londonderry-based yogurt-maker, and a few other New Hampshire companies have offered a number of jobs to people displaced by the hurricanes. Boucher said the New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association notified him by e-mail that it was becoming a clearinghouse for Gulf Coast hospitality workers. And many fund-raising efforts are under way.

Meanwhile, Bill Phillips, district director of the U.S. Small Business Administration in Concord, predicted that it will be some time before the SBA hears from New Hampshire businesses affected by the hurricanes.

“It’s way too early for economic injury loans to crop up yet,” Phillips said.

“The type of support we offer are economic injury loans, where a business was injured by having a major supplier or purchaser located in the area of the hurricane, and that won’t crop up for quite awhile. They have to experience the loss before we can do anything for them. How many New Hampshire businesses have major suppliers or purchasers in Louisiana or Mississippi, I just don’t know.”

Some New Hampshire companies say the hurricane forced them to reroute their supplies outside the Gulf Coast to keep them coming.

Mike Ogilvy is vice president of sales and marketing at Intelitek, a Manchester producer of technology education training equipment and industrial benchtop machine tools. Some of the metal components the company puts together in New Hampshire used to come from the Gulf, he said.

“Some of that dried up, so we’re shifting some of our supply chain outside affected areas. We think it’s a short-term problem. But we have been affected,” said Ogilvy. “Before the hurricane, our average deliveries were four to six weeks after getting orders, but because of the hurricane’s impact on our suppliers, we’re now quoting eight to 12 weeks. It’s been very impactful to our supply chain for products coming in.”

And to help the Gulf recoup, the company, along with a distribution partner, offered extra discounts to Louisiana schools that are rebuilding, Ogilvy said. “It’s not just a donation to the area. We want to help rebuild schools devastated by the hurricane, and we’ve offered a special incentive to ease the pain a bit.”

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