Students learn about advanced manufacturing at Whelen

Scroll down to read about a private-public partnership that introduces students to advanced manufacturing at Whelen Engineering in Charlestown, New Hampshire.

Capital Comments from State Senator Bob Odell

The e-mail from a lobbyist’s iPhone read, “The telecom bill just passed STE (House Science and Technology Committee) 17-0 not amended.  Thank you for your help.  This is good legislation.”

That is the kind of message a legislator likes to receive.  I had introduced the bill (SB 48) in the fall of 2010.  Here we were 20 months later in the last week for House committees to act on Senate bills.  Those many months of work in the Senate improving the bill paid off as the House committee saw no need to amend the bill and certainly not to make any policy changes.

The bill will reduce regulation of traditional land line telephone companies such as FairPoint so they can compete more effectively and fairly with Comcast and other communications companies.  In the end, the industry supported the bill as did consumer protection groups.

The fate of the telecommunications bill was far different from what happened to many other high profile bills in the last two weeks.  The House, for example, wants to put $17.7 million surplus from the last biennium into the state’s “rainy day” while the Senate would prefer to wait to see how the finances are when the current biennium ends on June 30 of next year.

So, the Senate has removed the rainy day provision from a House bill and substituted language to end the taxing of internet access. The House retaliates and puts the rainy day provision on a Senate bill they are returning to the Senate along with our cherished internet access tax removal language.  There is always some back and forth between the House and Senate in the closing days of the legislative session but I do not recall it being at this level in the past.

As of Thursday of last week, the work of the policy and finance committees in both chambers has ended.  It will take a scorecard to assess the status of bills left for the House and Senate to vote on this week. The work week will be long with the House setting aside three days for sessions while the Senate has set aside two days.  And when we depart on Thursday, the last bills needing floor votes will have been voted on.

Between now and the last week of May, the Senate and the House will decide what final language of bills can be accepted, which bills as amended by the other body should be killed and what bills will need a committee of conference to sort out the differences.  Committees of conference will meet and they may agree to disagree and let some bills die.  Or, and after some legislative back and forth, conferees may work out compromise language and a bill will go to the floor of both chambers for and up or down vote.

The legislature is on track to complete its work on schedule by June 7.


During the toughest days of the recession, at “jobs cabinet” meetings around the state, Governor John Lynch asked local leaders of manufacturing businesses, “how are things going?”  Inevitably, the response was that sales were good, they were keeping up with competition and they were optimistic about the future.

Except, and it is a big exception, the lack of trained, capable and willing workers were holding them back.  The Governor has said over and over again that is what he found across the state.    The beginning of a partial answer to the problem may be here in our own region.

A visionary leader, John Olson, CEO of Whelen Engineering Co, Inc., with 55 years of manufacturing experience, has made possible a partnership between Whelen and the Claremont School District to introduce advanced manufacturing to high school classes through structured daily visits to Whelen.

A few weeks ago, retired school superintendent, Jacqueline Guillette, sent me a copy of the course book.  It is several inches thick and packed with week by week study plans.  I took the book with me to a meeting with Governor Lynch on Wednesday to show him how serious and extensive the new advanced manufacturing program has become.  You could see he was impressed as we thumbed through the study book.

Scott Pope, an instructor at the Sugar River Technical Center in Claremont, is a critical key to the program’s success.  He helped draft the curriculum and travels on the bus each day to Whelen.  That gives him an opportunity to set the stage before the class gets to Whelen and on the return trip to review what students have experienced.

On Friday, I spent a couple of hours with Jacqui Guillette and Brian Boardman, the general manager of the 600 plus employee Whelen operation in Charlestown reviewing the progress of the program and learning the impact of the program in its first year.  As we walked between buildings at the Whelen campus, Brian said “manufacturing lost a couple of years” for lack of trained employees.

Students get to see the various operations at a manufacturing plant and do some hands-on work, thanks to a state waiver.  For me, very importantly, they get to learn from men and women who have been in their jobs … happily, productively and proudly … for years.  They become potential role models and points of reference for a student envisioning for the first time a career in manufacturing.

Senator Odell represents New Hampshire Senate District 8:  Acworth, Alstead, Charlestown, Claremont, Gilsum, Goshen, Langdon, Lempster, Marlow, New London, Newbury, Newport, Roxbury, Stoddard, Sullivan, Sunapee, Sutton, Unity, Walpole, Washington and Westmoreland.

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