N.E. Wire Strives to Stay Unique
June 3, 2012
By Ella Nilsen
New England Wire Technologies, with 343 workers, has seen its specialty wire products launched into outer space, wired into defense missiles and hooked up in the power supplies of devices that support ailing hearts.
But the 114-year-old company does not stock shelves with its products.
“We don't sell a range of existing products,” said Kelly MacKay, N.E. Wire director of sales. “We really are selling our capabilities.”
Since its foundation in 1898, the company has worked to create custom wire and cables, selling to a wide range of customers. It designs products that range from surgical tools and dental equipment to “finely stranded shielded conductors that go into missiles and tracking systems,” according to MacKay.
N.E. Wire's products have been used in NASA space missions including the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs in the 1960s and '70s.
N.E. Wire's subsidiary company, N.E. Catheter, located in the same facility on Lisbon's Main Street, designs products including spiral reinforced tubes for catheters and other products to be used for “internal body contact and medical applications,” including heart stents.
“These products have to be as small as possible, as thin as possible, and as rugged as possible,” said MacKay.
According to Organizational Development Director Mike Alberts, the wide range of products accounts for the company's continued success.
“The success of the company is diversification,” said Alberts. “It keeps us a very strong company, even when the economy in some niches may not be so strong. We build variety.”
N.E. Wire is unique in that it does not manufacture standard wire and cables. Its projects are close collaborations with customers' technologically complex designs. “Everything we do is custom,” said MacKay. “Every single product that we're manufacturing is for a very specific, highly customized application.”
With an engineering department that boasts 22 members, a big part of N.E. Wire's business is developing the design of the wire and cable as each product is commissioned. “Not all cable manufacturers have chemical engineers on staff,” MacKay points out. “We've got two.”
“We're a solution-based company,” said Alberts. “(Customers) actually will come to us with an idea that's half done, and we'll guide them through our design group and our sales group to help them choose the right materials, the right design.”
This collaborative approach to business and diverse range of products offered has helped this local company weather economic downturns. Because of the highly specialized nature and the close consultation N.E. Wire undertakes with customers, the company went through the 2008-2009 recession relatively unfazed.
“During downturns, we in sales and engineering are very busy because these customers are taking the lag in business as an opportunity to re-evaluate their product offerings and look at new ways to get ahead of the technology cycle,” said MacKay. “There's a lot of engineering, design, and development done during those downturns. We need the staffing here to support that.”
The town of Lisbon itself is very small. Located near the White Mountains, it has a population of around 1,600. N.E. Wire has a long relationship with the town, its base of operations since the early 1900s. The original wooden factory building is still there, just behind the main administration offices. The company holds a very important place in the town's community as well as the local economy.
“We are a local company; we hire locally,” said Alberts. “We very rarely get employees from outside New England.”
On a tour through the factory, this closeness of the local community is noticeable. Over the din of whirring machinery, MacKay greets every worker, most by name, chats about local sporting events, and inquires about families.
A significant contribution the company has made to Lisbon and surrounding towns is the “School-to-Work” program, which was started at N.E. Wire in 2006 with six students from Lisbon Regional School working in the factory's machine shop. Since then, the program has grown to 34 businesses working with 43 students from three area schools, Lisbon Regional, Littleton High School, and Profile High School, in Bethlehem.
“Having students learn what's locally available, and learning about their skills and talents not only helps the students to grow, but it exposes them to businesses in northern New Hampshire, so that they may stay,” said Alberts.
According to him, 33 out of the 43 students are planning to pursue a career in the internship program that they have chosen. “We have more businesses looking for students than we have students available,” he said, adding that the student response to the program has been “tremendous.”
New Hampshire's government is currently trying to replicate the program in other regions of the state.
The company is a perfect example of a local business going global. In 2004, N.E. Wire Corporation expanded into China, entering a joint venture with a company called Tri Wire Technology. Unlike many other corporations that have expanded internationally, N.E. Wire retained all of its Lisbon workers, cutting no domestic jobs.
The Tri Wire factory opened in Dongguan, China, in 2006 and employs around 110 people. According to Alberts, it serves a different purpose than its American counterpart. Unlike the custom designs of the Lisbon factory, Tri Wire creates basic, high volume wire, which is sold mostly to customers in China. N.E. Wire also has expanded facilities on the American West Coast with Bay Associates Wire Technologies, a facility in Menlo Park, Calif., Santa Ana, Sonora, Mexico, and corresponding offices in Keene.
For now, New England Wire Technologies focuses on its current work and has no plans for major expansion in the near future. Having won the 2011 N.H. Commissioner's Company of the Year Award, it remains focused on improving its products and maintaining close customer relationships.
“We'll expand our skill set inside to add value to the products,” said Alberts. “We don't see ourselves going backwards in the near future.”