By Gretyl Macalester
Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., paid a visit to Thermo Fisher Scientific on Thursday to accept an award from the National Association of Manufacturers for Manufacturing Legislative Excellence.
A handful of the facility's 300 or so employees gathered to hear Ayotte speak before she witnessed the work of other high-tech workers in the plant's slide and specialty glass facility first hand.
The factory on Post Road is the largest producer of microscopic slides for research in the world. It produces more than 4,000 varieties of microscopic slides used by government, universities and life research companies worldwide.
Business is going well, said Rick Jenkinson, director of global government relations and public affairs for Thermo Fisher Scientific, but he said concerns about the nation's financial situation are affecting business.
While Thermo Fisher does not receive much direct government funding, many of their customers do, Jenkinson said.
"If they are unsure of the future of NIH (National Institutes of Health) grants coming down, they are not going to spend much money," Jenkinson said.
He said the national financial crisis affects not just the slides and specialty glass division, but most other sectors that make up Thermo Fisher Scientific's global business, which employs about 20,000 people in the United States.
The award for manufacturing legislative excellence Ayotte received on Thursday recognizes members of Congress who maintained a voting record of 70 percent or higher during the 112th Congress based on key votes selected by a NAM member-led advisory board, including issues such as energy policy, taxes, and regulations.
Ayotte supported 81 percent of the policies identified by NAM as critical to the success of manufacturing in the United States during the 2011-12 Congress.
Former Congressman Frank Guinta was also honored with the award in October.
Mike Karsonovich, vice president and general manager of the slides and specialty glass business, said what happens in Washington directly affects their business in New Hampshire, from international trade policy to domestic energy policy.
He said votes in support of a pro-manufacturing agenda are important, as the industry is critical to the strength of the nation's economy.
"We are lucky to have Sen. Ayotte in our corner advocating for policies that will allow us to grow," Karsonovich said.
Thermo Fisher has been in Portsmouth since 1977. It manufactures its own glass in Switzerland, and sends excess glass back to Switzerland from Portsmouth to be recycled.
Customers include UNH, the National Institutes for Health and LabCorp as well as numerous life science companies around the world.
Karsonovich said an important part of its business is research and development and innovation to stay ahead of its Asian competition.
Investments in automation over the last year allow for an improved level of sophistication and better quality control at the facility, which directly helps it keep ahead, Karsonovich said.
"One of the things I can take away . is using innovation and quality to stay in business and to compete against other countries, like China," Ayotte said after her tour of the facility.
She said a focus is to make sure high schools, community colleges and universities are able to feed people into the high-skilled manufacturing work force.
Jan Nisbet, senior vice provost for research at the University of New Hampshire, was in attendance at Thursday's event as the university seeks to enhance its outreach to businesses, particularly advanced manufacturing.