Hitchiner is moving some jobs to Milford

MILFORD – Bad news for the North Country is good news for the Souhegan Valley: Hitchiner Manufacturing, Milford’s largest private employer, plans to shifts dozens of jobs into its Milford headquarters as it phases out a long-running operation in Littleton.

“The movement of product will probably create … 60 to as many as 90-plus positions” in Milford), said Tim Sullivan, vice president for corporate affairs.

He was in Littleton on Friday talking with employees after the company announced it would shut the plant over the next 12 months.

About 135 people work in three shifts at the Littleton facility. Company officials emphasized that they were closing the factory not because of any problems with the workforce or its operations, but to consolidate operates into one town.

To lower costs

“We’re doing this simply to lower our costs so we can be more competitive when we quote new business,” Sullivan said. “Anytime you’re running product 125 miles up the road to be further processed, there’s a lot of excess costs.”

The Milford-based company discussed shutting the North Country plant as far back as 2001, Sullivan said.

Hitchiner makes a variety of machine parts for industry, most of them with a millenia-old but still robust technology called lost-wax casting, using multimillion-dollar furnaces in which temperatures can reach 2,600 degrees.

It has about 470 employees in two facilities near each other in west Milford, plus 45 current job openings, Sullivan said.

Product lines made in Littleton will be shifted to Milford. Those lines include aircraft parts such as float walls and torque bars, and automotive parts such as turbo wheels and turbocharger rods, the company said.

Mexico, too

Hitchiner also maintains manufacturing facilities in Mexico, which largely serve the automotive industry, that were not affected by Thursday’s announcement. It has a sales office in France.

Most of the Littleton production will be shifted to the former ferrous division on Savage Road, behind the Market Basket plaza in west Milford. The vacuum-casting operation is nearby on 13 acres along Route 101A (Elm Street), as well as the headquarters and the R&D subsidiary, Metal Casting Technology.

Littleton is far north of the White Mountains, along the Connecticut River and as close to Montreal as it is to Boston.

New Hampshire’s North Country has been struggling to hold onto jobs in recent years, especially good-paying manufacturing jobs of the sort that Hitchiner provides.

Nonetheless, Mike Bergeron, business development manager for the New Hampshire Division of Economic Development, said he didn’t expect it would be too difficult to replace Hitchiner in Littleton, because the industrial site is close to Interstates 93 and 91.

“A lot of companies from Quebec like that Littleton location because they can return home the same day, but still have easy access to two interstate highways,” he said. “Existing buildings, with good quality for manufacturing, are valuable because the cost of new construction is very challenging.”

Calls it good news

Tracy Hutchins, executive director of the Souhegan Chamber of Commerce, said that good news for the Milford headquarters of Hitchiner was good news for the region.

“They’re a very vital part of this region,” she said.

Hitchiner moved to Milford in 1951, a few years after it started in Manchester and after it was bought by John H. Morison and his son of the same name. John H. Morison III is now chairman of the company, while John H. Morison IV works there.

The firm’s ability to produce large numbers of very precise metal components has brought it some large industrial customers over the years, including General Motors and Rolls-Royce Engines for its gas-turbine division.

Like many companies, the firm struggled when the 2008 recession cut into customer orders, but it rebounded enough to build a 42,000-square-foot expansion that opened in 2013.