AUGUSTA — Stalwart manufacturer Kennebec Technologies is growing and hiring.

The Church Hill Road company expects 12 percent growth this year and 10 percent in 2012.

Since 2010, the firm has hired about a dozen new workers.

President Charles Johnson anticipates it will need another six to eight machinists to meet the growing demand for the components Kennebec Technologies manufactures for the aerospace, defense and technology industries.

Despite all the doom and gloom about the current state of the economy, Johnson said the business is not alone in its growth.

“Against the constant drumbeat of negative, there is actually a lot of positive stuff going on in Maine, in a number of manufacturing centers,” Johnson said Wednesday. “The housing collapse has so skewed everyone’s view of the economy, the thing that has gotten lost is that much of the manufacturing industry in this country is doing well.”

That’s why the firm, established in Augusta in 1972 as Kennebec Tool and Die, has been having a bit of a hard time finding enough skilled machinists to hire.

They’re in demand.

“It has been a challenge to find people with the skill level we need,” Johnson said. “We do a great deal of training internally. Our business has gotten progressively more complex and the jobs continue to be more demanding. One reason we’re having a hard time finding help is many of the other precision manufacturing companies are busy, too.”

A 4,000-square-foot wing is under construction at the back of the company’s 20,000-square-foot manufacturing plant.

Johnson said the expansion will be all manufacturing space. He expects it to be ready in early December.

Since 2010, the firm also has renovated its production offices to increase efficiency and productivity and retrofitted air conditioning into all manufacturing areas, part of what Johnson describes as the company’s most aggressive investment in more than 15 years.

“In the renovations and this expansion, we’re investing over $1 million in the company and, over the last five years, we’ve invested nearly $5 million in new equipment,” Johnson said.

The firm had to lay off some workers in 2009, but since the second half of that year, it has been hiring. It now has 65 employees.

Among the equipment Kennebec Technologies has added recently is its first-ever fully robotic machining center.

Johnson said the robotic equipment will be part of a “cell” of four machining centers and one measuring machine, all of which will be able to be run by one person.

“One of our strategies, if we can’t get as many people as we want, is we’ll find more productive ways to use people,” Johnson said. “Now, typically, we have one person running one machine. With this cell we’re setting up, we’re moving toward people being responsible for multiple machines.”

The company’s website says Kennebec Technologies is “a full-service high-precision machine products manufacturer specializing in complex, high-value-added parts and assemblies.”

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

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