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Sen. Shaheen tours Somersworth Velcro plant to gauge impact of 'fiscal cliff'

Union Leader Correspondent

December 10. 2012 7:06PM
During a tour of Velcro USA's Somersworth facility Monday morning, U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., listened as President Scott Filion explained how hundreds of spools of material came together to make the well-known hook and loop products used in military and civilian clothing and other items. (JOHN QUINN PHOTO)

SOMERSWORTH - U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen says the nation must increase revenues, raise the debt ceiling and balance the budget to keep companies like Velcro USA viable.

Shaheen toured the 430,000-square-foot facility at 330 Route 108 Monday morning to see how the ongoing fiscal crisis - which could impose $607 billion in automatic spending reductions and tax increases, including deep defense cuts, - could affect the company.

Velcro president Scott Filion said the company is producing fewer products for the military but has made up some of the difference from other customers. He added he would like to see the uncertainty of the fiscal situation go away, however. Somersworth workers produce a lot of products for military applications, such as uniforms, helmets and other equipment, but it is one of seven areas the company is focusing on, Filion said.

William Tagye, senior marketing manager for Velcro, said the company must remain efficient since there is very little room for overhead in the textile industry. He said that Velcro takes good care of its work force. "We don't have high turnover," Tagye said. "We have a lot of 40-year employees."

Tagye said the company stays in close contact with its customers, especially military suppliers, to keep up with changes in design. He said they are always looking to provide more options.

"Our products are extremely durable," Tagye said, noting that the same technology used in military clothing can be used to improve other items. Velcro's hook and loop products, for example, work with a variety of fabrics and products, from ceramic plates on helicopters to diapers, he said.

In 2000, Velcro USA opened a 230,000-square-foot factory for weaving, knitting, shipping and receiving. The company expanded by building a 200,000-square-foot addition for molded hook, non-woven products and warehousing in 2009, according to a company fact sheet.

"We're starting to outgrow our footprint in Manchester," Filion said, and as a result the company separated certain production lines, including high-volume items in black, white and beige to the Somersworth plant.

Filion said the facility, which sits on a 240-acre parcel between Routes 108 and 16, employs about 200 people who work three shifts a day. The company employs about 650 in the state.

"It's the kind of company we want to keep here," Shaheen said, adding she's impressed by its versatility and the energy-efficiency measures at the Manchester facility.

After extending the debt ceiling in 2011, the Budget Control Act cut more than $400 billion from the defense budget, which would be further reduced if federal officials cannot agree to a plan to reverse debt growth by the end of 2012.

If an agreement can't be reached, about $1 billion in mandatory cuts to national security and domestic programs would begin in 2013. Shaheen said officials in Washington must look at all aspects of the budget - especially entitlement programs - to work out a long-term solution.

"I think everyone want to see us (in Washington) work together," Shaheen said.

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