To New Hampshire Metal Fabricator, Next president Is All About the Mettle of a Man
For Jack Gilchrist’s job shop, it’s not just about the machine that makes the part, it’s the man behind the machine. And his belief that the quality of worker matters most to the success of a well-made part, matches his belief that the quality of the man matters most to a well-made America. That’s why he has ardently stepped behind Mitt Romney as he runs for the presidency, saying he is a pragmatic businessman who operates with his mind, not on his emotions.
Last January, Gilchrist Metal Fabricating Co., Inc. (GMFCO), located in Hudson, N.H., hosted Mitt Romney as he campaigned for the New Hampshire primary which he went on to win. Gilchrist said he felt Romney connected with his workers and is well poised to address issues that affect manufacturing, such as keeping jobs in America, stabilizing oil consumption, and supporting research & development.
“The governor (Romney) is a leader. He doesn’t lead with his mouth, he leads with his head,” Gilchrist said in a phone interview. “And he’s trying to turn himself into a politician to compete here, but it’s really not what he is. He’s a business guy; he’s a manager; he’s a pragmatist. He’s being forced to play on emotion, but that’s not really who he is.”
Whereas liberals tend to throw money at problems, Romney is offering a “due diligence” approach from the point of view of a businessman, Gilchrist said. “You know they (democrats) keep plugging tax cuts and stuff, well let me tell you, you can cut my taxes as a business man all you want, but it isn’t going to make me hire one person. If there’s no demand for my service, it’s irrelevant,” he said.
Gilchrist said he feels Obama is working against the research & development tax credit for manufacturing and therefore threatening the “made in America” platform. R&D supplements a calculated risk for businessmen and encourages taking that risk, he said. “And that (risk) creates ideas that spawns opportunities and creates jobs,” Gilchrist said, explaining that his father, also a businessman, warned that a customer base turns over every seven years. “So we need 15 percent new business just to stay even and R&D creates a lot of that opportunity.”
The “uncertainty” caused by the political race for president has added stress from a businessman’s perspective, Gilchrist said, explaining that it is hard to look forward when the tax rules for next year are so unclear. Gilchrist expressed concern with the debt ceiling being raised last August. “And the conservatives get demonized because they want to offset that with savings, with cost reduction. We can’t keep doing this. Talk about uncertainty. Every time we print new money, extra money, we devalue the money in our bank account. All those things become uncertainty to me as a business guy and as a manufacturer,” he said.
Obama, Gilchrist said, has flip-flopped on issues, while Romney steps up to the plate like a businessman. “There are two sides to the Obama/Romney argument. You have the intellectual perspective and the emotional perspective. Romney is looking at our situation intellectually, Obama is presenting it emotionally,” he said.
Gilchrist said he believes there should be an election focus on strengthening manufacturing, but said Romney has not been able to address manufacturing enough because he is getting sidetracked by his opponents. “I think he’s not focusing on manufacturing because he can’t,” Gilchrist said, adding that one issue that should be addressed is oil consumption. “If we stabilized half of our oil consumption and if we stabilized half of the pricing, it would go a long ways to Gilchrist Metal Fab and everybody else to knowing what their costs are going to be in order to budget something,” he said. “It’s out of control. The cost of energy is ridiculous and there is no plan and the governor (Romney) is on top of stuff like that. He’s conservative, he’s pragmatic, he knows what it takes to stabilize, and he knows what it takes to run a business not his mouth.”
As strict as a bottom-line businessman Gilchrist is, he still pays 10 percent more on his electricity bills because he chooses to buy wind energy credits from a broker so that he is 100 percent powered by wind energy credits. “I know I’m in manufacturing and I know I’m a business guy, but I do have a conscience.” Other ways Gilchrist said he conserves water and electricity is all of the welding machines have power inverters on them, using far less energy than conventional welding equipment. Gilchrist has also invested in motion-sensitive light switches and high-output fluorescent light bulbs. “I think it’s worthy of doing because it’s part of the mindset of the workforce. We also recycle paper and aluminum cans,” he said. “It all goes back to my guys and the disposition and personality a company assumes from its management.”
As a medium-gage, precision metal fabrication shop and large machining facility, GMFCO’s industries include deep water drilling, medical equipment, defense, architectural, food processing equipment, paper pulp, and urban infrastructure via precision parts for concrete mold components for underground tunnel segments. The company’s policy is to never have any one industry exceed 20 percent of its annual sales so as to be as diverse as an investment portfolio. “Our policy is the way it is so we can level load our opportunities. We’ll never make huge fortunes and hopefully we’ll never run out of good relationships,” Gilchrist said. Every day brings in unique projects to GMFCO, including aesthetic architectural fabrications and parts for concrete molds for making pipes and tunnels. One such project for the Smith’s Center in Las Vegas has included doing nearly a million dollars’ worth of stainless steel on the outside of the building. “It’s downright gorgeous stuff, it’s really artwork. Our customer for that is in Colorado Springs, so somebody in Colorado came to New Hampshire for a job in Las Vegas,” he said, adding that his website (www.gmfco.com) brings in a lot of business. “We put three different media finishes on the same piece of metal.” Gilchrist offers plasma and laser cutting capabilities and stresses that the machinery must be aggressively maintained, especially when tackling architectural pieces. “Cutting is all about maintenance because cutting is a very dirty thing and if you don’t keep your machinery clean and tight, it just wears out and you can’t hold tight tolerances and have good edge quality,” he said. “Edge quality really matters because a lot of what we do is very aesthetic or is fitting up to something else and those edges need to be crisp.” Gilchrist said his shop can cut 8 by 20 foot plates at 1-1/2 inch thick, plus or minus 45 thousandths, 7 by 20 foot plates an inch thick, plus or minus 30 thousandths, and 6 by 12 foot plates, one-inch thick, plus or minus 5 thousandths.
Just as Gilchrist sees Romney as a man who could lay a firm groundwork for the success of this nation, he sees his 45 workers as the “foundation” to the success of his business. He talks about them like family, gives them all four weeks vacation, provides 100 percent health and dental care, as well as short- and long-term disability. His son, Stuart Gilchrist, is general manager. The head bender, Ron ??, went to school nights for drafting. The head of the cutting department, Tin ??, left Viet Nam and has been working for Gilchrist since the 11th grade. The head of the machine shop, Gary ??, is an “artist” with a degree in mechanical engineering. And the head of welding, Jodi ??, is a “Frenchman from New York and boy does he figure out how to put things together.”
“They’re my foundation,” Gilchrist said. “It’s more about a mindset than it is about a good piece of equipment. We’re not doing general trade work here; we’re doing things that are particular.”
Although a lot of Gilchrist’s machines are run by computers, he said it’s the man behind the machine that matters, especially one that can multi-task and cross-train. Being able to handle changing projects in a place where every day is so different, is essential, he said. “Last week we were working on fancy finish architectural stuff and the week after we’re working on a mold,” he said. “The guys are used to changing gears and are capable. These guys are adept at shifting gears and understanding what the customer needs, which is often very different from what he says he wants.” Interpreting and understanding what a customer needs is critical and Gilchrist says finding that out always starts with a conversation where what is wanted is separated from what is needed. “Do you really want plus or minus five thousandths on that? Is that what you want to pay for? Tolerance equals time, and the tighter the tolerance, the longer it takes to get what you want.”
Gilchrist said that by combining greater cost efficiency and shorter lead times gives him the ability to produce larger and more complex metal fabrications than others can handle. “The reduced lead time is key with the pressures of today, as we are all doing more work with less people,” he said. With five axis precision milling centers, the ability to machine large metal components, and having experienced MIG and TIG welders gives GMF the ability to deliver intricately machined and fabricated parts needed by customers across the country in various industries. “When you’re involved with any large project, many times when you finish, you’ll think about all the things you could have done better; how things might have been made easier; and where you can improve,” Gilchrist said in a statement. “With metal fabrication, it’s no different, and I think a constant drive to improve is one of the reason’s we’ve stayed strong over the years, despite what the state of the economy has been.”
Gilchrist notes that one of the projects his company does for deep water drilling is to make large molds that have extremely tight tolerances. One of his competitors tried making them and got out of it. “You just have to think about it and work at it a little bit,” Gilchrist said speaking of his company’s dedication. “Deep water drilling is a very good industry for this little company in New Hampshire, believe it or not.”