This story by News Editor Gregory Seay originally appeared in the Hartford Business Journal September 4, 2017.
Three-and-a-half decades ago, Michael Francouer, a Massachusetts-born industrial entrepreneur, chose Connecticut to harness technology for precisely fusing exotic and fragile metals for jet engines and other hardware for the aerospace, healthcare and defense sectors.
Electron-beam welding (EB), the automated welding technology introduced in the late 1950s and embraced early on by United Technologies Corp.’s (UTC) then Hamilton Standard division, was revolutionary in its day, says Francoeur. But only a handful of companies, UTC included, were marketing the technology to customers who, even after purchasing, often found early versions of the powerful EB machines expensive, bulky and difficult to master.
Then a 20-year-old, Francouer’s first job in 1977 in his hometown of Agawam, MA, was with a company struggling to figure out how to deploy its newly acquired EB welder. Lacking college or technical training, but relying on his affinity for music and desire to be a sound engineer, he said he helped himself and his employer, EBTEC Corp., sort out the machine. Along the way, EBTEC and Francoeur built a reputation in Connecticut/Massachusetts manufacturing circles for their prowess with EB technology.
Those skills proved invaluable later on, he says, once smaller, fast-cycle versions of EB welders were introduced. By that time, Francoeur says he “got the entrepreneurial bug,” and in 1985, launched, with partners, his own company, Dynamic Electron Beam Welding, with a handful of employees inside a commercial garage in Waterbury.
Today, Francouer’s latest industrial venture, closely held Joining Technologies, 17 Connecticut South Drive, in East Granby, is celebrating 25 years. It now consists of four divisions and has 114 employees. It still does EB welding, but also has embraced the more widely used laser-welding technology.
“There’s only a few of us remaining,” said Francouer, 59, semi-retired to a Rhode Island beachfront but still Joining’s chairman. He says he has a strategic-planning role in the company, while David Hudson, who met Francoueur when both worked at EBTEC and later formed a band for which Francouer volunteered as sound engineer, oversees the day-to-day as CEO and is a co-investor.
Francouer infused Joining Technologies with his “entrepreneurial vision, creativity, his love for the journey more than the destination,’’ said Hudson, 56, who lives in Southwick, MA. “He created an environment for people to succeed.”
Francouer and Hudson are tight-lipped about their company’s financials. However, Hudson says they target $50 million in yearly sales by the end of the decade, and that Joining is profitable.
Throughout Joining’s early struggles to win market acceptance and customers, including Trumpf Inc. and the Defense Department, and internal disputes with ex-partners over the company’s direction, Francouer says he always considered Connecticut as Joining’s home. Yet two years ago, he says Joining spent $15,000 on consultants who investigated a number of potential relocation sites, among them Florida, Kentucky, New York, Tennessee and Texas. He chose to stay.
“We decided that we could really never recover from the move,” he said. “We would never have had access to the resources we have [in Connecticut].”
Being apart from skilled talent, related suppliers, not to mention the greater distance from not just its Connecticut/New England customer base, but also losing EB-welding’s “institutional memory” made moving impractical, Francoeur said.
Moreover, Connecticut and New England, he says, are on the cusp of an economic and industrial resurgence as a result of roots laid as far back as the 18th century.
“The industrial revolution started here,” Francoeur said. “So it’s no surprise to me that 200 years later, after the industrial revolution, that we’re left standing in the ruins of our infrastructure.”