LEWISTON — Andy Nichols paid $1.2 million for electricity last year at Elmet Technologies.

No question he’d love to trim that bill.

The former Philips Elmet Corp. employs 200 people making an array of high-tech metal products.

“If we could cut our (electric) bill by 30 percent, that is a significant, significant gain on our business,” said Nichols, president and chief operating officer. “I’m competing against guys in inland China, all over Europe. We’re doing it well. Every penny of this counts.”

Energy costs and the hard work finding employees were themes Thursday at the Manufacturers Association of Maine’s annual manufacturing summit at the Bates Mill.

Patrick Woodcock, director of the Governor’s Energy Office, said he was “the most optimistic that I’ve ever been about the future of electrical pricing in New England” with so many projects coming online.

“The (expansion of the) pipeline that brings natural gas into New England is ahead of schedule,” Woodcock said. “It is going to be complete in the third quarter of this year.”

He forecast the “least expensive electrical and natural gas pricing in the coming years.”

Woodcock also used the time, though, to take the 100-plus manufacturers in the room to task.

Energy policy in Augusta is being set without them, he said.

“I would say there are probably 15 days that it’s critical to have a manfacturers’ voice in Augusta,” he said. “You are not at the table.”

Woodcock pointed to a new Maine law that will split $3 million a year in Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative funds among large energy users, but not midsize or small users.

“The larger businesses were there, at Augusta, to make that decision,” he said. “If you are not at the table, you’re on the menu — and that is, unfortunately, a prime example of one of the consequences of not having smaller manufactures at the table in Augusta.”

In a small energy survey among MAMe members, Nichols said 47 percent reported they’d have new capital spending if their energy bills dropped, 17 percent would expand their business and 41 percent would invest more in research and development.

He pays 8.6 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity at Elmet.

“One of my competitors in China, I’ve verified, they pay less than 4 cents a kilowatt — they pay less than half of what we pay,” he said.

Chinese public policy drives that, Nichols said.

Manufacturing in Maine employs 55,600 people, according to Maine’s Center for Workforce Research and Information. The industry has been holding steady with some sectors growing in recent years.

For companies looking to expand, finding enough people has been an issue.

Department of Labor Commissioner Jeanne Paquette said with a 3.4 percent unemployment rate in Maine, companies are going to have to examine how they’re trying to reach people and sell themselves.

“We are no longer in an employers’ market,” she said. “We’re in an employees’ market.”

Paquette suggested asking employees how they rate the company and using the “Best Places to Work” program as a potential recruitment tool.

Leo Dionne, a manager at Pratt & Whitney in North Berwick, said his company hired 230 people last year and is on pace to do the same this year.

It’s connected with community colleges, targeted veterans programs and new Mainer programs for new hires.

The company has also gotten creative.

Last year, during a recruitment visit to a technical school, a high school senior said he’d love to work for the company and eventually become an engineer, but his parents had said no.

“They want me to go to college, work in an office,”  the teenager told Dionne. “They don’t want me working in a factory.”

So Pratt & Whitney staff called his parents. Dionne met them for a factory tour showing off its technology.

“At the end of the tour, the father was asking for an application,” he said. “We ended up hiring the kid. We’ve got to work hard, one person at a time, to show them it’s safe, it’s clean, there’s a career and there’s good-paying opportunity.”

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