NEW GLOUCESTER  — One Bowdoin company’s specialty: making handcrafted, impossibly thin electrodes for use by brain surgeons.

For another company out of East Boothbay, it’s making $30 million super yachts. 

The Manufacturers Association of Maine’s annual Manufacturing Summit celebrated big and small on Thursday, highlighting the variety of work done here and how there’s room to grow.

Sandy Spaulding, president of Hodgdon Yachts, said it’s found success, in part, by diversifying. Right now, Hodgdon is building a dingy for a 328-foot German yacht.

“The dingies cost about $1.5 million to $2 million a dingy — and we are taking orders,” Spaulding said to a room of laughter.

More than 150 manufacturers turned out to the summit at Pineland Farms for the chance to swap stories, hear from a few companies on what’s working for them and weigh in on MAME’s legislative agenda in smaller, targeted breakout sessions.

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Precision manufacturers last year prioritized skilled labor and attracting new workers and were heading that way again Thursday. Representatives from more than a dozen companies bemoaned the fact that students who come out of high school are unable to read a tape measure and that somehow, industrial arts ended up with a reputation as the place to send the difficult kids. They also discussed the lengths they’ve gone to find good workers. 

“I tracked a kid down on Facebook when I found out he graduated (college),” said Mike Hamlyn, one of the owners at Downeast Machine and Engineering in Mechanic Falls. “I put his office right next to me because I’m not losing him.”

There was a feeling in the room that students weren’t being shown the vast possibilities in manufacturing careers, that the entire industry might benefit from public service announcements and more social media outreach.

“How to make it sexy?” asked moderator John Belding from the University of Maine’s Advanced Manufacturing Center.

Some in the room nodded. Exactly.

They agreed on one way to keep getting the word out: Grow the educational Manufacturing Day, which, last year, expanded from seven sites to visit to 22.

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MAME Executive Director Lisa Martin said manufacturers in Maine employ about 50,000 people and make $5.9 billion in goods and services each year.

“The perception is that there are no jobs,” she said. “And yet, if you ask any manufacturer in this room if they’re hiring, they will (say yes).”

Tim Downing, president of Duratherm Windows Corp. in Vassalboro, said his company has made windows for Boston’s Faneuil Hall and for the Ronald W. Reagan Presidential Library in California.

It has a precision joinery machine called the Wizard Drillex, made in the Czech Republic, that’s the only one of its kind in North America.

In working with so many vendors outside the country, Downing has noticed more companies working together overseas without one business worried another is getting a leg up.

“The relationships with the people are the most important things,” he said. 

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Bryan Briggs, vice president of Customer Collaborations at FHC Inc. in Bowdoin, said that company makes the software, operating room equipment and electrodes used by neurosurgeons to target specific diseases in the brain. It does business with 100 countries out of the old Bowdoin Central School.

“We’re doing a lot of looking, listening and asking questions,” he said. “We try to help surgeons find that specific neuron that’s misfiring.”

Spaulding said Hodgdon Yachts is the oldest continuously operating boat builder in the U.S., with offices in Maine, Newport, R.I., and Monaco. It’s family-owned, on the sixth generation and turns 200 next year.

It’s diversified into composite and military work and has expanded into several divisions.

“Just custom yacht boat-building is a little tough because you’re building a $30 million, $40 million product over the course of a few years,” Spaulding said. “It’s not like the next one is sitting there to go in line the next day.”

Claudia Raessler co-founded Saco River Dyehouse in Biddeford with her husband in 2012. It got a $40,000 boost from a Kickstarter campaign and is in the process of modernizing its very old equipment.

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Her advice: Work with Goodwill Industries for employee and training help and seek out SCORE, ScaleUp America and the Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development for other help.

Also, hire smart and think ahead.

“One of the things I don’t do well — I don’t sell — and that’s a big deficit,” Raessler said. “And I also found out that I don’t necessarily provide a level personality for running a manufacturing operation — don’t take that as unstable — take it as learning to recognize your strengths.”

The company hired an outside CEO in December.

“Starting a manufacturing operation is challenging,” she said. “The margins are tight. There’s never going to be anyone that’s going to give you anything. You better make the very best product, the very best way with the least amount of waste that you can possibly do that.”

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This story was updated at 9:23 a.m. to correct the spelling of Bryan Briggs’ first name.


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