By Tim Heston
A$42 million custom fabricator, machine shop, and assembler in the woods of north- ern New England, NSA Industries began
in 1982 as a very di;erent organization. The St.
Johnsbury, Vt., company was launched as a contract manufacturer for Troy, N. Y.-based Garden Way
Carts. Business grew at a steady clip until several
years later, when Garden Way moved production
to Taiwan. Austin was then stuck with a shear, a
press brake, a powder coating line—and a declining business.
“From that moment forward, the founder knew
he needed to build the company to prevent this
from ever happening again. That’s when we started
to diversify. He knew he couldn’t depend on just one
So said Matt Smith, NSA’s vice president of sales
and marketing. Smith started with the company in
1988, back when the shop employed 12 people. Five
years later the head count had grown to 60, and by
2000 it had nearly 300 employees.
Diversification tells only part of the story, though.
NSA’s growth narrative has three layers. Customer
and equipment diversification is one layer; custom-
er and employee engagement is another; and at the
bottom, the foundational layer, is a strong sense of
Succession can be critical in metal fabrication, particularly if the founder’s family isn’t interested in
keeping an ownership stake. It’s a common story: A
family owner sells to investors who either want to
flip the company for a profit or try to fit it into a larger organization. The shop becomes a chess piece in
the middle of a larger game.
But what’s o;en forgotten is that sense of place.
A company may compete globally, but it manufactures locally, and community roots are important.
When the company founder decided to retire in
2007, he sold to a group of local investors who wanted to keep jobs in the area.
“When they purchased the business, they all had
interests in Vermont,” Smith said. “They believed in
Vermont, believed in keeping jobs in Vermont, and
wanted to see manufacturing be sustained in Ver-
mont. And they’ve been extremely supportive over
This didn’t make NSA immune to business reali-
ties. It laid o; nearly a third of its workforce during
the Great Recession. This was a new experience for
the company, considering the dot-com crash in 2001
didn’t really a;ect NSA’s major customers (a rare
situation at the time for a New England fabricator).
“We survived the Great Recession,” Smith said. “It
was ugly and sad for all of us. But we came out of it
by doubling down on everything, from continuous
improvement to automation.”
Today those 100 jobs are back and then some, and
over the past five years the company has invested
$13 million in equipment, including new investments in cutting, bending, and automated welding.
The impetus for the investment came in 2012 with
the purchase of an 87,000-square-foot facility a mile
down the road from the original plant, which NSA
was leasing at the time. The company closed on the
real estate deal, then began populating it with new
equipment, including a solid-state TRUMPF laser
(NSA became an early adopter of 1-micron, high-brightness laser cutting) and punch/laser combination machine with load/unload automation for
unattended operation. It also installed several new
TRUMPF press brakes.
It was all installed in the new building over several months as old equipment in the previous facility
continued producing, with no significant delays of
orders. In 2014 NSA also acquired and renovated its
old 84,000-sq.-;. building it previously leased, and
filled half of it with milling and turning equipment,
including Swiss turn machines and several automated horizontal CNC mills.
The focus on machining goes back to the company’s early days. Shortly a;er losing business to
the three layers
of a metal manufacturer’s growth
How NSA Industries became one of
the largest fabricators in northern New England
The company expanded its forming capabilities in 2013
by investing in panel bending.