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Hassan’s Innovate NH tour takes her to Salem firm

Union Leader Correspondent

July 02. 2013 10:07PM

Gov. Maggie Hassan chatted with company president Chris Hawekotte during a tour of Geophysical Survey Systems Inc. in Salem on Tuesday afternoon. During her hour-long visit, the governor talked with employees and checked out some of the company’s most recent products, such as this UtilityScan DF, a ground-penetrating radar device. (APRIL GUILMET/Union Leader Correspondent)

SALEM — During a stop at a Salem technology firm Tuesday, Gov. Maggie Hassan marveled at the local ingenuity behind the company’s ground penetrating radar (GPR) equipment that’s been used around the globe.

Hassan visited Geophysical Survey Systems Inc. (GSSI), at 12 Industrial Way, as part of her Innovate NH tour, a statewide initiative aimed at assisting some of the Granite State’s most innovative businesses. A leading manufacturer of GPR equipment, the Salem firm has been in business for nearly four decades and has led the industry with the first digital storage GPR system, the first commercially available GPR data post-processing software and the first GPR system designed to produce high-resolution images in scanned concrete.

These days the company employs about 75 people, although it hopes to expand to meet growing product demands, company president Chris Hawekotte said.

“It’s kind of a niche market,” Hawekotte told the governor. “But right now, we’re the world’s largest manufacturer of these products. And we’ve quickly outgrown this building we’re in. ”

GSSI currently offers GPR solutions for a variety of archaeological, geological and environmental applications, including utility detection, concrete inspection and bridge- and road-condition assessments.

Hawekotte hopes to move to a larger facility within the next couple years; however, finding qualified help to fill the facility could be a challenge.

He noted that many of his employees have been with the company for a decade or longer, but as the company grows it has been difficult to secure new staff with the necessary skills to create GSSI’s unique products.

“When we do find good employees, they tend to stay with us a long time,” Hawekotte said. “But its been tough finding people with the right technical skills.”

The GPR products, which were historically used in geophysical applications, have more recently found a niche in the commercial marketplace. The company’s largest market is in concrete engineering, company officials said.

“About half of our business right now is in infrastructure applications,” Hawekotte noted.

Hassan said she’s reaching out to companies like GSSI through a number of recent initiatives, such as the provisions outlined in her Innovate NH jobs plan.

Hassan said a major goal is to train a more qualified workforce for future generations.

“When fourth-graders come to the statehouse, as they often do, I’m often talking to families about the jobs that are out there,” the governor said. “A lot of times people don’t initially see manufacturing as a possible career path. But I’m hoping we can tailor our curriculum to meet some of those needs.”

Another pressing challenge for smaller companies such as GSSI is the financial burden of employee health care.

“It’s becoming much more onerous for us to manage,” Hawekotte said.

While there’s no immediate remedy for the financial strains presented by rising health care costs, Hassan said she’s “pushing very, very hard” for reimbursement to providers that’s “based on outcome rather than the number of procedures.”

“I do think we’ll be making some progress over the next five years,” Hassan said. “In the long term, we’re making some system changes, but it’s going to be a long haul.”

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