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NH firms help keep Boeing aloft

New Hampshire Union Leader

May 12. 2018 8:01PM
Boeing's KC-46 Pegasus tankers will become a familiar sight over the Seacoast when the first of a scheduled dozen joins the New Hampshire Air National Guard's 157th Air Refueling Wing at Pease. (Boeing)

U.S. Air Force pilots flying Boeing F-15 fighter jets can thank nearly two dozen New Hampshire companies for the electronics system used to detect missiles and approaching enemy planes.

BAE Systems in Nashua works with 21 local firms that supply parts to the defense contractor to build the system to help protect pilots against enemy threats.

"What really makes the difference is the stuff you just can't buy off the shelf: the engineering, the creativity, finding faster parts, parts that have more performance," said Michael Roberts, a program director at BAE, whose electronics systems sector is based in Nashua.

About 200 BAE employees in New Hampshire help support that warfare system program, with Boeing providing BAE with more than $100 million for it over a five-year period, Roberts said.

Overall, Boeing, the world's largest aerospace company, said its business last year with 93 Granite State vendors and suppliers was worth $200 million, supporting 5,000 direct and indirect jobs.

Those companies were spread among more than three dozen communities - from Hudson to Lisbon. Nashua led with 10 vendors, followed by Manchester with nine.

Former White House chief of staff Andrew H. Card Jr. and Southern New Hampshire University were among those on Boeing's 2017 list.

Few companies offer as detailed a public view of its suppliers as Boeing, whose website provides a state-by-state list for 2016.

The roster provides a glimpse of the state's economic ecosystem and how Granite State companies are part of a "global supply chain," according to Taylor Caswell, commissioner of the state Department of Business and Economic Affairs.

"We have a small-business manufacturing industry in New Hampshire that's growing," Caswell said. "These types of contracts certainly help quite a bit."

Of course, tensions around the globe can affect future business.

"If we have a trade war with China and China starts to back off the contracts with companies like Boeing, the ripple effect ultimately reaches New Hampshire manufacturers," Caswell said.

Boeing spokesman Dan Curran cautioned it was too early to assess potential economic damage from threats of tariffs or canceled airplane deals.

Compared to neighboring states, New Hampshire enjoys an oversized role with Boeing, which is headquartered in Chicago.

Despite Massachusetts having five times as many people as New Hampshire, Bay State companies received less than double what Granite State firms received from Boeing in 2016. 

That year, Boeing spent $309.6 million with Massachusetts companies and $179.3 million in New Hampshire. Vermont companies booked $68.4 million with Boeing while Maine firms had only $1.9 million, according to Boeing's website.

Boeing plans to deliver KC-46 refueling tankers this year to the Air National Guard for the 157th Air Refueling Wing at Pease.

Curran said BAE is Boeing's largest local supplier. 

In addition to the 21 New Hampshire companies supplying BAE with parts for the F-15 fighter jet electronics system, BAE said there are another 32 local companies that supply parts for other various Boeing-related projects.

Some components "could be small hand-held type components the size of a quarter," Roberts said.

Other top Boeing suppliers were Cobham Integrated Electronic Solutions in Exeter and Titeflex Aerospace in Laconia, according to Curran.

Boeing only had eight employees working in New Hampshire and 118 retirees living here last year.

At Jewell Instruments in Manchester, Brian Ward said his company sells Boeing inclinometers, which measure the tilt angle during testing of satellites before they are sent into space.

"They'll come in and buy groups of 10 or 20 of them at a time," said Ward, director of business and development. Boeing's business accounts for a couple percentage points' worth of the company's overall business, he said.

In Hanover, Hypertherm sells plasma-cutting and water-jet cutting equipment to Boeing to use for a variety of jobs. 

The plasma equipment is made in New Hampshire and the water-jet equipment is built in Minnesota. The latter is used to cut aluminum for aircraft, according to Aaron Brandt, the company's vice president and chief technology officer.

Boeing also uses Hypertherm robotic software developed in Canada that helps guide robots on assembly lines, Brandt said.

"In Boeing's case, they'll use it for drilling and riveting work for assembly of aircraft," Brandt said.

The Boeing work "would be a small percentage for us," he said.

Another Boeing supplier is Stonewall Cable in Rumney.

"Stonewall Cable designs and manufactures custom cable assemblies and wire harnesses for various applications for Boeing," said spokesman Anthony LaMonica. "When designing aerospace, avionic and defense vehicles, durability, performance and reliability are important. In most cases, specialty materials are required to perform under harsh and extreme conditions while considering weight and cost."

The 90-employee company declined to say how much business it does with Boeing, which has been a customer for more than 15 years.

MicroFab, a microwave circuit manufacturing firm in Manchester, does occasional work for Boeing some years.

"Many companies we manufacture circuits for we do not even know who or what the end product is," said company executive John Kelley.

Boeing said it works with 12,500 American businesses throughout its supply chain, supporting about 1.3 million American jobs.

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