Published November 13. 2011 4:00AM
Maine Oxy, the largest independent distribution company in New England, has opened a new retail store on Cross Road in Waterford that promises to service a wide array of customers, from commercial ventures to the weekend welding hobbyist.
The 1,500-square-foot Maine Oxy retail shop, located in the front of the former Crown Manufacturing building, sells everything from welding equipment and safety gear to power sources and specialty gases.
In back of the store and to one side, the company has another 5,500 square feet of storage space, where everything from specialty gases used by research laboratories and hospitals to helium needed by flower shops is located, along with other items required by organizations from fire departments to manufacturing firms.
"This is our lucky 13th store," Dan Guerin, Maine Oxy's president, said.
Guerin said the store, which had a soft opening in October and a ribbon cutting this month - state Rep. Betsy Ritter used a laser to cut a metal strip - expects about 80 percent of its business to come from commercial ventures and 20 percent from hobbyists.
Founded in 1929 and already well established in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts, Maine Oxy is just moving into the Connecticut market, having opened another store in South Windsor over the summer. Between the two new locations, 10 jobs have opened up, four of them in Waterford.
"In our business, even during tough economic times, we are seeing an ongoing and growing demand for professional welders, and we are here to serve their needs and best interests - now here in Waterford as well," Guerin said.
Maine Oxy, which hopes to open up more jobs locally in the months ahead, is a third-generation, family-managed company that started out as a propane distributor. Current chief executive Bruce W. Albiston joined the company about 40 years ago.
The company's nearly 150 employees generally come from the welding industry, though some are outsiders whose entrepreneurial attitude fits with Maine Oxy's culture, said Carl Paine, business development director for the company.
Maine Oxy, based in Auburn, Maine, is 49 percent owned by employees, so they share in any profits, said Paine.
"Our employees are more invested in the company," Paine said. "They see all the (sales) numbers daily."
Maine Oxy also is well known for reaching out to the community. The company has invested in a vehicle it calls the New England School of Metalwork that employees take around to schools, encouraging students to do hands-on welding or teaching professionals new techniques.
Earlier this month, during the store's grand opening, the vehicle was parked at the Maine Oxy lot in Waterford, and students from Ella T. Grasso Vocational Technical High School in Groton enjoyed shooting off sparks as they welded pieces of metal together.
With the average welder in the United States today now in his mid 50s, Maine Oxy officials figured taking their school on the road would be a good way to jump-start a new generation in a rewarding career.
"We've had high demand from employers in the area," said Steve Violette, a teacher at Grasso Tech. "Of our grads, 80 percent were hired in the autobody field, and those that didn't went on to higher education."
Violette and fellow teacher John Oliva, who brought about 40 students to Maine Oxy's grand opening, pointed out that other welding jobs are available, too, from working on oil rigs to repairing bridges.
"This industry still has jobs," Violette said. "It has some real good-paying jobs."