BRUNSWICK, Maine — Six years ago it was just an idea for Tim Hebert, managing director of his family’s construction business. The company does a lot of hospital renovations, and Hebert thought they needed a better way to close off space while it was being rebuilt.
He took his idea to the Maine Technology Institute, at about the same time mechanical engineer Bruce Bickford was looking for a new opportunity.
They met at an MTI event.
By 2015 they were making parts of the STARC temporary wall system in Bickford’s garage.
Today, they employ 60 people, manufacturing the wall systems in a large building at Brunswick Landing.
“I have to pinch myself every day when I think about where we’ve come from, where we are today and about to head in the future,” says Tim Hebert.
They credit a series of grants and loans from MTI to help fuel that growth. The non-profit agency, created by the Maine Legislature, is celebrating its 20th anniversary Monday night at an event in Freeport. MTI President Brian Whitney says over those years they have been involved in 2,800 projects, using $270 million in R&D funds provided by Maine taxpayers. Whitney says it has been a good, long-term investment in Maine’s economy.
“There definitely are people employed all over the state that have benefitted from MTI funding,” Whitney says.
STARC Systems may be a classic example of what the R&D support can do in a short time. Bruce Bickford says that once they had refined the design, STARC moved to Brunswick Landing’s TechPlace, an incubator facility for businesses. That provided low-cost space and access to equipment to begin manufacturing and proving there was a market for the wall systems. From that point, the business began to grow, and in 2017 acquired support from a venture capital fund to allow more expansion.
“It's very gratifying certainly for me personally,” says Bickford. “And to see it grow like this. We’re very excited to be manufacturers in Maine excited to be providing these good jobs.”
They say filling those jobs has not been difficult, in contrast to reports from many other businesses. Pay starts at $17 per hour fir new, unskilled hires, says Bickford, and gods up from there. But he and other managers say the workplace culture attracts people, and that their current workers often recruit others to join them.
Sarah Newbury says she has worked in manufacturing jobs for 30 years and likes this one.
“I love this product,” she says, adding that she has helped recruit at least two other people to join their team.
Bickford and Hebert say they expect more growth and are planning to move into a much larger space close by, in a former aircraft hangar, to further expand manufacturing.
Hebert says they hope to reach $15 million in sales this year and says that rapid growth could not have happened without the support from MTI.