LEWISTON — Philips Elmet used to make one billion light-bulb filaments a year on Lisbon Street.
In the same headquarters, now called Elmet Technologies, “today, we make zero,” CEO Andy Nichols said. “We’ve had to innovate. We’ve taken the technology around tungsten wire that’s used in incandescent light bulbs to now we’re sole-source making wire for surgical robots.”
On Thursday night, the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council honored Elmet and half a dozen other businesses at its 39th annual dinner at the Ramada Conference Center, celebrating innovation, investment and risk.
In a joint award from the cities of Lewiston and Auburn, developer George Schott received the only standing ovation of the night when he was recognized “for steadfast belief in the community.”
New LAEGC President John Holden said he’d only just met Schott but knew him by name, saying the Greene man preferred to keep out of sight, “perfecting the art of the deal.”
About 250 people turned out for the evening, which had the theme of “Illuminate!” driven home by funky, light-up eggs on each table.
Short videos were shown of each award-winner, along with a general Twin Cities’ commercial that Holden said was a work in progress from a new partnership with WGME to highlight the community.
Holden, who took over for the retiring Lucien Gosselin, asked to collect from people ideas about “the single, most important thing that you think distinguishes L-A from the rest of the world.”
“Over the next two years, we need to coordinate and collaborate our efforts,” he said. “We need to be efficient and effective. We need to try new things and new approaches. As you’re out and about, selling products for your business or having a great meal or walking trails, I encourage you to share your positive news and thoughts at #LAMaine.”
The audience laughed when he added, “I have no idea what that means. But do it. And we’ll get the word out about what we do.
“We need to take risks; we need to be aggressive,” Holden said. “We need to reach out beyond our borders and into the world. I want to compete on the world stage for new investments, new employers.”
U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine, asked whether the audience realized that in the 1950s, Bates Mill was the largest employer in Maine with 5,500 workers.
“You folks employ our kids and our grandkids and our nieces and nephews and give them opportunity for better lives and a better future,” he said. “We should do everything humanly possible to help you be more successful.”
Kudos were given in a letter read by Gov. Paul LePage and video messages from U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King.
Elmet, Paul’s Clothing and She Doesn’t Like Guthries were given Economic Achievement Awards by the city of Lewiston.
Hobby Lobby, International Paper and Selco were honored by Auburn.
Elmet was the oldest company in the mix with roots back to 1929. The company was bought by investors looking to turn it around earlier this year. Its video showed high-precision robotic arms on the factory floor and blacksmith-like workers pulling metal out of stoves engulfed in flames.
“We ship products made down the street to places like Israel, Taiwan, China, Korea, Japan and all over the United States,” Nichols said. “We compete against the toughest of the tough. We make 100 products every day and they’re all different. That’s the innovation we’ve had to have to stay in business and reinvent ourselves.”
On Thursday night, seven business were honored with Economic Achievement Awards during the 39th annual Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council dinner.
Some of the reasons the businesses were recognized, according to the LAEGC:
International Paper: Here for more than 40 years with 130 employees, the plant makes more than 4 million square feet of cardboard boxes each day. IP has been on Fortune’s World’s Most Admired Companies list 12 of the past 13 years.
Selco Plumbing and Heating Supplies: When the 25-year-old company moved from Lewiston to Auburn last year into the Pontbriand building, it expanded its showroom. It’s now adding tools, cleaning supplies and key-making services in a nod to what Pontbriand’s hardware used to offer.
Hobby Lobby: Open since December 2014, the store employs 34 people and sales are running ahead of projections. The family-owned chain has grown from one 300-square-foot retail space to 600 stores and Forbes’ and Fortune’s lists of America’s largest privately owned companies.
Elmet Technologies: Elmet dates back to 1929 and, earlier this year, investors bought the company, which specializes in high-performance metals and ships them all over the world.
She Doesn’t Like Guthries: Co-owners Heather and Randy Letourneau opened Guthries eight years ago with a vision to support their family, the community and the environment. Produce comes from local farms and takeout containers are biodegradable. Last year, they added Guthries Independent Theater, showing many local and independent films.
Paul’s Clothing: Owner Paul Poliquin opened his doors in 1992, but he worked in retail on Lisbon Street for 20 years before that. Poliquin, a former city councilor, bought the building he’s in, then the property next door, and made several improvements, including a striking, 50-foot wrought-iron fence.
Joint Cities Award:
George Schott: Schott has developed or turned around retail parcels around Auburn including the Auburn Plaza and Auburn Mall. He helped bring the Norway Savings Bank Arena to life and helped Elmet investors with a loan to help preserve the jobs. He has 19 horses and a collection of military vehicles that have been used in films, including “Under Siege” and “GI Jane.”