By Chris Jensen
GROVETON — A Vermont manufacturer this week is moving a step closer to deciding whether to open a manufacturing facility in the former mill town.
Earlier this month NSA Industries LLC of St. Johnsbury, Vermont, said it was considering opening a new operation at the Chapman industrial park, the site of the former Wausau paper mill.
But first the company said it had to know whether it could find 40 workers.
And job fairs on Sept. 20 and 22 showed there are enough workers, said Wendy Hilliard, the human resources director for NSA Industries, LLC.
“We’re very, very pleased with the outcome,” Hilliard told InDepthNH.org.
The company got 166 applications on the 20th and 122 more on the 22nd, Hilliard said.
But NSA Industries, which does metal fabricating, machining and powder coating, isn’t ready to make a decision on whether to open in Groveton, Hilliard said.
“This decision to expand into the Groveton area is contingent on a number of factors,” she said. “The first is would there be a reliable and skilled workforce in the area and obviously that question has been answered.”
The second is finalizing a pending contract for the work that could be done in Groveton, CEO Jim Moroney has said. The company couldn’t sign that contact without knowing for sure it has the workers, he said.
Hilliard said if NSA does decide to open a facility in Groveton it would work through the applications and select people for a second interview.
She said that would provide “a chance to really get in-depth into what their experience is, what we are looking for, what position they are looking for and where they might be a fit with the company.”
The company says the Groveton jobs would range from welding and machinists to material handlers. And, working with the state of New Hampshire, the company will offer training.
If NSA Industries decides to locate in Groveton, it would be a landmark event for the North Country, where manufacturing jobs are thought to be on the verge of extinction.
It’s been almost a decade since the Wausau mill closed, putting about 300 people out of work.
And efforts by state and local officials and businessmen to bring businesses to Groveton have failed.
“We were always hoping things would turn around. Sometimes it looked a little bleak. But we always tried to keep our chin up,” Groveton select board chairman Jim Weagle said.
He says a significant improvement came with Bob Chapman of Milan taking over the former mill property. “We were glad when Bob took over and was the primary owner. He’s for the North Country.”
Weagle says he’s optimistic about NSA Industries coming to town and if that happens it might attract other companies if they see “it’s a viable place to do business.”
One of the applicants at the job fair was Scott Rice, who grew up in Groveton, saw the mill closed and was shocked at how quickly the town’s bustling economy crashed.
“I watched it decimate a town,” he said.
And he thought the chance of new manufacturing jobs coming to Groveton was “slim.”
But he said it’s a good sign that so many people showed up at the job fairs and hopes that will show NSA Industries that there is a good and reliable workforce.
“The workers are here,” he said. “When we had the mill there we had solid workers. People that were there for 40-some odd years. They know how to work.”