NH defense, aerospace firms eye expanded exports

CONCORD, N.H. — New Hampshire’s aerospace and defense industry companies are working together to find opportunities overseas.

The New Hampshire Aerospace and Defense Export Consortium held its first formal meeting on Wednesday, just as many of its members are starting to feel the effects of the across-the-board federal spending cuts that began March 1.

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New Hampshire has about 300 aerospace and defense-related companies, and the industry is growing, but it is also deeply affected by what happens in Washington, said Christopher Way, interim director of the state Division of Economic Development.

‘‘We’re seeing the hiring that’s starting to flatten. We’re seeing expansions that aren’t occurring and we’re also seeing contracts that aren’t being offered,’’ he said. ‘‘We want to take a sector that has a pronounced impact on New Hampshire — aerospace and defense — and we want to do something more in the attack mode.’’

About 30 percent of the relevant companies haven’t yet exported their products, Way said. The consortium is aimed at helping them, as well as the more experienced companies that face challenges navigating often confusing export regulations and laws.

Members of the group will take turns hosting monthly meetings, and the state is setting up a private online portal for them to exchange ideas and seek help.

“If there’s an issue you’re having or you want to pick someone’s brain, you can either send them a message through the portal or you can start your own discussion group and everyone can feed into that,’’ said Tina Kasim of the state’s International Trade Resource Center.

Harry Johnson of Profile Metal Forming in Newmarket asked the group to consider some kind of mentoring system to match up experienced companies with those just starting to explore exports.

‘‘For a company starting down the path, it would be very helpful to have someone to speak with on various issues,’’ he said.

The group will be focusing on countries that are increasing their defense spending and those that are seeing an increase in business and leisure travel.

Among those who attended Wednesday’s meeting, some said they want to do more business in the United Kingdom, while others were focused on South America, Australia, and the Middle East.

While industry groups focused on exports are common overseas, they are less common in the United States, Way said.

‘‘We’ve gotten more interest in this than probably anything in the last five years,’’ he said. ‘‘An industry group like this, that’s common ... but to add the export layer on that, that’s what makes it a little bit different.’’