AUBURN — After a rough start and years in federal prison, Titan Gilroy took an entry-level job at a machine shop and learned the trade — then built his own company.

With a few smart moves, it took off like a shot.

“I went from $1 million (the first year) to $1 million a month for the next 24 months — 55 employees, 20 Haas (high-tech) machines,” Gilroy said.

Then came a call in 2009 from the customer who’d driven so much of that growth.

“He said, ‘Today’s going to be a bad day.’ In an entire day, $4 million (worth of orders) on my floor, canceled,” he said.

Gilroy is building his California company back up again and he’s gone back to prison — but this time, he’ll be teaching others on his own TV show.

The star of “Titan: American Built” opened a four-day conference for 200-plus machine shop teachers on Tuesday at Central Maine Community College.

The annual Americas CNC Educators HTEC Conference rotates host sites around North America every year. CNC stands for computer numeric control; HTEC for the Haas Technical Education Center.

More than 1,800 schools in North and South America, from high schools to colleges, use the company’s equipment in the classroom, according to Bob Skodzinsky, manager of the HTEC Network at Haas Automation.

The conference connects teachers with each other and the latest trends in digital manufacturing. CMCC was picked to host, in part, because of the strength and size of its precision machine program.

“Most of our students have jobs at the end of their first semester on campus,” said Diane Dostie, the conference organizer and CMCC’s dean of corporate and community services. “We do a lot of training for our regional manufacturers who need to upgrade the skill sets of their workforce and we’re seeing an increased demand for that internal training.”

Gilroy, dressed in a black T-shirt with “Fight for America” across the back, detailed his own challenges and enduring optimism. In 2009, when the recession hit and he got that call, he’d had to lay off 40 employees.

“I got on my knees so many times, (asking,) ‘Please save my company,'” Gilroy said. “I just got down to the absolute bottom.” 

Even in the crashing economy, he noticed the aerospace industry going strong. So Gilroy sent a letter every week for six months to the head of an aerospace company, asking to talk.

It worked. He got in, and it helped save the company.

“I’m making parts right now for a spacecraft that’s going to Mars,” Gilroy said. “I’m making parts for another company that’s shooting tourists up into space. They’re like, ‘Do you want to go?’ I’m like, ‘No.'”

For the third season of his reality TV show, which airs in November on MAVTV, Gilroy said he’s gone into San Quentin State Prison and set up a precision machine shop for inmates.

“In this show, I’m going to teach hardened guys who have no hope how to make amazing parts and use that as an example for teachers all over the world to follow,” Gilroy said.

His end goal: “We’re going to get them jobs on the outside,” he said. “We’re going to follow them and show that it’s real, show that it can happen.”

Manufacturing is hard, he said, but “we’re making precision parts for every industry on the planet and it’s a good-paying job, year-round,” Gilroy said. “It’s an exciting time because the technology has never been this good. Machines have never been this good.”

His shop in Rockland, Calif., is back up to 30 people.

“There’s just something cool about working with metal,” he said.

Someone in the audience at Kirk Hall voiced their agreement.

Fred Donovan, who’s taught precision machine tooling at CMCC for 32 years, called Gilroy’s keynote “very inspiring.”

“The fact that he came out of the prison system and then went back to give these people hope is awesome,” he said.

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