NORTHBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS —
A manufacturing company says skills and technology it developed making lobster traps could help save money on U.S. President Donald Trump's controversial plan to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Riverdale Mills' super-tough steel fence already guards 43 kilometers of the border, and the company says its technology has proven to be a cost-effective way to secure airports, prisons and nuclear facilities.
The small firm is based in Northbridge, Massachusetts, and CEO Jim Knott says his company came up with a much better way to make lobster traps. The metal mesh is assembled on huge automated machines that weld many joints at once. The mesh can be made of different sizes of steel, with different size openings for different applications.
The mesh is run through a huge vat of molten zinc to protect the product from rust. For lobster traps and other marine applications, the product gets an additional coating of special plant-based plastics that protect the zinc. The plastic formula is a trade secret. Lobster traps have to be sturdy, effective and affordable, and Knott says lessons from making them improved the design and production of mesh for other applications.
For security fences, the mesh openings can be made too small to allow people to get a grip with their fingers or to allow a cutter to work effectively. Knott says, "It's difficult to climb, it's difficult to cut — I think it just makes more sense than a concrete wall, or a bollard wall, or an expanded metal wall."
Knott says this industry is very "capital intensive" and a big new order for a border fence could require a bigger investment in expensive equipment. It would also increase the need to recruit and train more skilled workers. According to Knott, "Adding people might be a challenge, but our plant pays a good wage and people, I think, are fairly happy here."
Riverdale already supplies some fencing on the Arizona border with Mexico.
Trump's plan to build a wall along the southern U.S. border is controversial, so a large order to supply material for the project might bring criticism to the company. Knott, however, expects job gains will generate goodwill and may temper critiques of his company.
"For every one person who works here directly, we're probably influencing 10 other people somewhere else in the community," he said.
In the meantime, this small manufacturing company has already grown from 60 employees to 185 over the past several years and still needs 35 more workers. These employment gains come after a period when the United States has lost millions of factory jobs that generally pay fairly well.
Knott says manufacturing is an important source of good jobs and a crucial source of innovation for the nation's economic health.