South Coast Manufacturers Draw On Local Talent | WCAI

South Coast Manufacturers Draw On Local Talent

May 26, 2015

The South Coast has a much longer and more robust history of making products than Cape Cod or the Islands. Two South Coast manufacturers in particular make very different types of products, but both employ specially-trained local talent to produce them.   

Davico Manufacturing in New Bedford has spent 28 years making just one thing - replacement catalytic converters. But within that one product category, there’s a huge amount of variety: 1,700 different sku’s, or part numbers, according to Davico Business Development Manager Glen Hamblet,

“Those fit literally thousands and thousands of applications – different years, makes and models of vehicles,” Hamblet said.

The company employs around 50 people, and operates out of a converted mill building in New Bedford’s North End. They supply warehouse distributors nationwide, who then sell to local auto parts store like Auto Zone. Ray Suprenant is Davico’s President. He says their location is ideal.

A welder at Davico Manufacturing works on one of the 1,700 different types of catalytic converters the company manufactures.
Credit Brian Morris/WCAI

“We find this available base of employees – we do a lot of welding – that we’re looking for that come out of New Bedford vocational schools, so that’s a real plus,” Suprenant said. “This is a desirable place to be as far as square footage costs and operating costs in general, certainly if you’re comparing to the greater Boston area.”

New Bedford has long been a desirable location for manufacturers. Its deep-water port once provided 19th-century textile mill owners with a means to import raw cotton from the South. And while textile and other manufacturers have largely moved overseas, Davico still makes its automotive products right here. So that catalytic converter you may need for your 30 year-old car could be somewhere on this cavernous factory floor with its maze of welding stations, piles of raw metal tubing, and ceiling high, color-coded shelves.

“What you’re seeing here is mostly the storage of those 1,700 different parts,” Suprenant said, walking through the cavernous shop floor. “It does really take up a large amount of space, but we are known for having the hard-to-find items, so if you call us for an old vehicle, a 1985 Jaguar, we have the part for that.”

And if they don’t, a customer can send Davico the old part and they’ll manufacture a new component from scratch.

Glen Hamblet said one thing you don’t see is automated machinery.

Davico ships its products to auto stores nationwide.
Credit Brian Morris/WCAI

"Everything is done by local talent – people that we bring in, and hope that will grow with us and stay with us. And the longer they’re with us, the more expertise they develop, and the better our product becomes.”

Manufacturing has changed over the years in New Bedford. Many of the mill buildings that line its major thoroughfares are now used for housing or are occupied with specialized manufacturers like Davico.

But just 16 miles to the east, a business that really can’t be located in a far-off country continues to cater to the region’s historic cranberry industry, as it has for 123 years. Brothers David and Ray St. Jaques took over Hayden Manufacturing in 1992. They have 4 full-time and 2 part-time employees, serving an industry with approximately 400 local growers.

Credit Brian Morris/WCAI

Winthrop Hayden, who founded the business in 1892, invented the Hayden Separator. The design has remained mostly unchanged since the 19th century.

Dave St. Jacques starts up a newly-restored Separator, and explains how it sorts good cranberries from bad ones.

The Hayden Separator
Credit Brian Morris/WCAI

“They’re thrown into the top of this hopper, and there’s bounce-boards in the back. And the good ones bounce off ‘cause they’re hollow, and the bad ones, like the rotten ones, fall through to the bottom. And it gets five chances on the board to prove itself, and the ones that do bounce go out to the front of the machine where there would be a conveyor belt, and people would be on either side of it, pickin’ through what made it through,” St. Jacques said.

Another machine that hasn’t changed much over the years is the Darlington Cranberry Harvester. Dave and Ray’s father bought the patent for the Darlington in 1953, and Hayden has been making them ever since.

This dry-harvesting machine is used to pick cranberries when the bog is completely dry. Dry-harvested cranberries are packaged and sold in stores. Dave St. Jaques says Hayden also makes wet-harvesting machines that pick cranberries that are used to make juices, jellies and jams.

“When the bogs are flooded, it’s a machine that has a beater in the front and then knocks the berries off and they float up to the top,” he explained.

Recently, Hayden has branched out into making and selling antique cranberry-related items. Master carpenter Granville Stringer stood at a workbench re-fashioning a cranberry box.

Master carpenter Granville Stringer manufactures a wine rack out of an old cranberry box
Credit Brian Morris/WCAI

“It’s an old box. I’m repairing it first, and then we’re gonna take it and make a wine rack out of it,” said Stringer.

In a separate room at the right side of the building, stacks of old crates, cranberry boxes, baskets, scoops and other memorabilia wait to be shipped out. They sit alongside several old lathes and a mechanized hacksaw, still in perfect working order.

“Actually our lathes are 1895, and the equipment after that is the 1940’s. We really don’t need to upgrade,” said Dave St. Jacques.

Hayden Manufacturing is located in West Wareham because the cranberry industry that supports it is there, and most of the products it makes are sold locally. Back in New Bedford, the much larger Davico Manufacturing sends its 1,700 types of catalytic converters all across the country. Both companies hire local people with specialized skills, and tend to forego the assembly-line automation that dominates America’s manufacturing industry. And for these two South Coast manufacturers, that’s been the secret to their success. 

This story is part of our reporting series "Making It Work: Manufacturing on the Cape, the South Coast, and the Islands." Hear more stories in this series.