In Billerica, a Clean and Expanding New Beginning for Consolidated Sterilizer
BILLERICA -- Since it was incorporated in 1946, Consolidated Sterilizer Systems has been a Boston company.
That changed in August, when the company moved from its 18,000-square-foot headquarters in the heart of Allston to a facility twice the size in Billerica.
Was the move about space? Yes, said CEO Arthur Trapotsis, but it was also part of a strategy to attract more applicants for in-demand advanced machining jobs.
“You used to hear things like there’s no jobs,” Trapotsis said. “There’s tons of jobs. We can’t find people to fill them. We’re all fighting with each other to get these candidates in.”
About half of the company’s 48 employees, work in the trades making steam autoclaves, large sterilizing machines used in laboratories and hospitals. The number of employees is expected to increase as Consolidated Sterilizer expands.
However, finding these workers in the state’s largest population center hasn’t been easy. The company moved to Billerica, in part, to draw workers from existing skill pools in Lowell and Lawrence, he said.
“It’s really expensive to live in Boston and there’s no trade schools. ... You can go get your MBA and your business degree and your engineering degree and software degree in those colleges in Boston, but you can’t necessarily learn how to weld and be a machinist in Boston,” he said.
Consolidated Sterilizer isn’t the only company searching for this workforce.
In recent years, Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration has poured tens of millions into programs focused on advanced manufacturing and other trades.
Like vocational schools around the state, Shawsheen Valley Technical High School has benefited from this funding.
“Part of the intention of those grants, its not just about putting new equipment in schools,” Superintendent Tim Broadrick said. “It’s about helping us and motivating us to develop new programs, particularly partnerships around adult workforce development.”
Last year, the school received a $495,000 grant to update its machining classroom, including new computer numerical control, or CNC, machines. Shawsheen Tech also offers night programs for adults seeking certifications in a number of disciplines, including welding.
Through a cooperation with other vocational schools, they hope to soon unveil a night certification program in machining, according to Broadrick.
Additionally, Consolidated Sterilizer Systems and Shawsheen Tech plan to partner for a co-op program where students can get hands-on experience in the industry.
Broadrick said Trapotsis is correct, the region does have a manufacturing workforce, but it’s aging.
Getting young people involved in manufacturing comes with challenges. Many in the United States think of manufacturing as dirty and on the decline, but that’s not the case, according to Broadrick.
“It’s a myth that manufacturing has left the United States,” Broadrick said. “What’s left the United States is simple manufacturing with a high tolerance for error. But fine tolerance manufacturing? Medical device, clean-room manufacturing? Extremely technical manufacturing? It’s staying here. In fact, it’s growing here.”
According to Trapotsis, advanced machinists often start around $16 to $18 an hour and over a few years can gradually move up to $30 an hour. Shop foremen can make over $70,000 a year, he said.
Community Development Director Rob Anderson said the company’s move from Boston to Billerica, has precedent, but isn’t common.
E-Ink moved from Cambridge to Billerica in 2013, bringing 400 employees. At one point, Nuvera Fuel Cells also had offices in Cambridge. ClearMotion is in the process of moving from Woburn to Billerica with a ribbon-cutting expected this fall.
“It doesn’t happen as often as I would like it to, but we do have a great blue collar workforce that’s highly educated,” Anderson said.
He credits “great schools,” like Shawsheen Tech, Middlesex Community College and UMass Lowell, for making the Route 3 corridor attractive to manufacturers.
“They’re turning out people who can use the machines (and) know how to think for themselves,” he said.
Consolidated Sterilizer Systems’ new location on 3 Enterprise Road, hasn’t struggled to attract tenants as much as the Technology Park, which the town hopes to re-energize with new zoning promoting mixed-uses, Anderson said.
Technology Park is mainly office space, whereas the complex on Enterprise Road has offices, but also outdoor storage and distribution capabilities.
Trapotsis said the extra space gained in the move allows the company to offer some of the amenities that many companies are turning to in an effort attract employees.
Employees may no longer be able to walk to lunch, but the kitchen is bigger, parking is easier, an exercise room is in the works and a ping-pong table sits feet from the entrance.
Less than a month after moving to Billerica, it’s too early to know the full effect of these changes, but Trapotsis said the response to the company’s first job postings in the new location are hopeful.
“We do have more candidates that are applying from outside the 495 belt, which before we’d never see. ... We haven’t really started interviewing yet, but the amount of résumés coming in has been more,” he said.
Follow Elizabeth Dobbins on Twitter @ElizDobbins