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October 18. 2013 9:43PM

Shaheen visits Gentex, sees prototype of military headphones


U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, left, meets with executives from Gentex Corp. in Manchester on Friday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER — U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen said Congress has got to stop managing from crisis to crisis, stop the partisan bickering, work together and refocus on creating jobs.

Shaheen was in Manchester to discuss the need to promote trade policies that benefit New Hampshire businesses, like Gentex Electro-Acoustic Products Corp. She met with officials and toured the Brown Avenue facility.

She told Gentex officials that Congress cannot continue to debate whether the U.S. government is going to pay its bills because it hurts the country domestically and the nation's credibility internationally.

Dan Fratkin, product business manager for Gentex, estimated that production for the family-owned company, with headquarters in Pennsylvania, was down 7 percent because of the federal shutdown. He said that government auditors work on their production floor and, with the shutdown, they were unable to do their work, so the company could not shipped its product.

Shaheen, a Democrat, was part of a bipartisan coalition of 14 senators that included U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a Republican, credited with moving the plan forward to reopen the government and pay the nation's bills.

While Shaheen said she was not going to play the blame game, she said the 16-day shutdown was short-sighted, cost the U.S. economy $24 billion and pushed short-term borrowing up by a third of a percent.

The bottom line, she said, is it hurt everyone.

NH businesses hurt

Shaheen said she heard from New Hampshire business owners concerned about how it affected their lines of credit and questioning whether they could count on government contracts.

Their message was loud and clear, she said. There needs to be more certainty in what is going on in Washington.

Gentex officials seemed to agree. The company also makes highly sensitive microphones to attach to pilot's and soldiers' helmets, at other plants.

"If you get shot wearing that (helmet), you're probably going to live," Fratkin told the senator as she examined the helmet, which is customized with strips of Velcro, whose company headquarters is also in Manchester.

Triple growth predicted

Gentex spent two years developing the new headphones. They perform much like the human ear, but automatically shut down to protect a wearer's hearing from damaging sounds like a mortar shell. The headphones were developed and made at the Manchester plant, and officials believe the new product will triple the company's growth in the next five years.

Shaheen got a look at the prototype which, in two weeks, will be shipped out to be tested under military conditions.

Gentex is one of 70 companies in the New Hampshire Aerospace and Defense Export Consortium, formed about nine months ago by the N.H. International Trade Resource Center. Gentex acts as a mentor for other companies,

The group provides programs and technical assistance for companies and manufacturers in the state, helping them reach their full export market potential.

pgrossmith@unionleader.com



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