Matt Trischler, left, and Dominik Cyr, members of the Saint Dominic Academy robotics team, demonstrate the robot they worked on for the FIRST Robotics competition for attendees of the Maine Manufacturing Summit held at Lost Valley in Auburn on Friday. Sun Journal photo by Andree Kehn

AUBURN — A company in growth-mode, making 90 wood stoves a day at a former shoe shop, won Manufacturer of the Year at the Manufacturers Association of Maine annual summit at Lost Valley on Friday.

“Our industry is under many challenges from the (legislative and regulatory) environment,” said Jotul North America President and CEO Bret Watson in accepting the award. “You have to dig deep.”

Hundreds of attendees from 132 companies turned out at the Maine Manufacturing Summit to talk challenges and innovation, answer Maine trivia and watch high school robotics demonstrations.

Asked about the economy in a quiz via their phones, 45% said they considered it good, 45% fair and 10% excellent. More than 80% considered legislative outreach very to critically important.

Brian Deveaux, CFO of Hussey Seating Co., encouraged businesses to explore the self-insured health insurance trust that the trade group is starting in an attempt to get a handle on health care costs. One member raised his hand to say his premiums had just gone up by 79%.

“Strength in numbers is one of the primary reasons, control over our own destiny,” Deveaux said. “By being self-insured, we can do things that you might not get if you’re in a traditional health insurance plan.”

He said 24 companies representing about 1,100 employees had already shared health care and claim data to explore costs. They’re hoping to kick off coverage in September.

The association has had a group energy program through Constellation Energy since 2007. One hundred companies participated last year.

Alan Lapoint said he converted his three companies, including Strainrite in Auburn, to 100% wind power using that buying group at what he considered minimal cost, “less than 0.009 cents a year, basically $1,000 for a million kilowatts.”

“(I’m able) to look my daughter in the eye and tell her we’re doing what we can do (for the environment),” he said. “We can’t do everything, but we’re trying.”

In a report on MAME’s Manufacturing Day efforts with students, when the group encourages businesses to show off what they do and hopefully spark more interest in manufacturing jobs, Chuck Bates of General Dynamics said 10,500-plus students have gone on those business tours since 2014.

This year, Manufacturing Day is all year long, he said. “It’s 12 months we have to be telling our story and promoting what’s going on in manufacturing.”

Jotul North America President and CEO Bret Watson. Sun Journal photo by Kathryn Skelton

Watson, of Jotul North America, said his company has 102 employees and makes 18,000 to 19,000 wood stoves a year at the former Sebago Shoe space in the Gorham Industrial Park.

In the past two years, the company has hired 20 people and grown revenue by 21%.

“We’ve benefited from the housing market coming back, the economy coming back,” he said. “We’re going to 110 (employees) right now because we’re adding machining cast iron to our business. We have a great opportunity in the U.S. to expand manufacturing. We need business-friendly policies, but we also need innovation.”

John Belding of the University of Maine’s Advanced Manufacturing Center and Center for Additive Manufacturing of Metals was named MAME’s Innovator of the Year.

“We can build a lot of tooling and fixturing, things that companies need every day to build the parts they build,” he said.

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