NEW VINEYARD — A local wood manufacturing company is raising hope and eyebrows after doing something that few other manufacturers can claim: grow.
This year, family-owned Maine Wood Concepts has increased the number of employees from 75 to 105, according to President Doug Fletcher.
“We realize this isn’t something happening across all industries, so we’re grateful,” he said.
The company has been expanding, Fletcher said, because it’s both grown more efficient and has acquired a new product line.
The company, founded in 1971, manufactures custom product lines such as toy parts, handles and knobs, craft items, musical items, cookware and tools.
Maine Wood Concepts was awarded the Maine Wood Products Association annual Pine Tree Award, which is given each year to a Maine-based wood product manufacturer that grow because of innovation. Gov. Paul LePage was one of 160 attendees at the award ceremony at the University of Maine at Farmington Wednesday and congratulated the company.
The New Vineyard manufacturer is one of a handful of remaining mills in Maine that have adapted to the changes in the industry, said Dan Crowley, executive director of Maine Wood Products Association.
“There used to be a wood mill in every town. The ones that are left have learned to survive, and they’ve become very efficient. I think that will set them up well as the economy gets better,” he said.
First selectman Fay Adams said she is thrilled that the company continues to grow and serve as the largest employer in the town of 725.
“They keep expanding, and it’s kind of surprising with this economy, in this little town,” she said.
Franklin County has the third highest unemployment rate in the state, at 9.4 percent, down from 9.9 percent this time last year, according to the Maine Department of Labor.
The state’s unemployment rate was 6.8 percent as of June. The national rate was 7.8.
Fletcher wouldn’t disclose sales figures for the company, but town tax records showed in 2012 the company paid $18,870 in real estate taxes and $7,530 in property taxes for equipment at the mill.
Adams said as the largest employer and largest tax contributor in the community, the company plays a crucial role in the town, which runs on a $393,000 budget. Fletcher said the new jobs range in department and wage and include office staff, sales representatives, a sales manager, machine operators, technicians and quality control staff.
In fall of 2012, they bought a new line of products from Vic Firth Inc., a Newport-based company that’s the world’s largest manufacturer of drumsticks.
The New Vineyard mill now makes Vic Firth Gourmet products, which include wood products for food production, like rolling pins and salt and pepper mills.
Crowley, of the Maine Wood Products Association, said the three brothers who own Maine Wood Concepts, Doug, Gary and Jody Fletcher, took a chance that paid off when they bought the new product line.
“While other people were contracting and nervous about spending money and investing money, they might have been nervous but they took a chance and invested,” he said.
Fletcher said the growth they’ve had since buying Vic Firth Gourmet is a little surprising, but he said the company would still have had to hire a few more people because it was growing even before the purchase.
Fletcher said in the past few years Maine Wood Products also started to regain business lost to manufacturing overseas, particularly China.
He said he is not sure all the reasons for the rebound, but said some likely factors are the Chinese pay scale going up and an increased scarcity of quality wood in that country.
One major reason for the shift, Fletcher said, would be a cultural shift to placing more value on local products.
“‘Made in the USA’ speaks volumes more today than a few years back. People recognize the quality of craftsmanship that comes from this state,” he said.
The manufacturer also invested in new sawmill equipment that uses more of each log to make a product and wastes less wood as sawdust.
“We get a much better yield out of each log,” he said.
Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252