COLEBROOK, N.H.—Rick Tillotson is determined to carry on the legacy of his late father, polymer product pioneer Neil Tillotson.
An entrepreneur in his own right, Rick Tillotson recently formed Tillotson Performance Polymers L.L.C., which opened a plant in Colebrook in early February to manufacture a number of different polymer products, including those made with natural rubber or synthetic rubber latex.
Last year he purchased the 103,000- sq.-ft. facility, sitting on 15 acres, with plans to lease about 70,000 square feet of the site to other tenants, a Colebrook official said. Tillotson has refurbished and upgraded the facility. Financial arrangements weren't released.
In September 2012, Tillotson entered into a 50-50 partnership pact with Alain Boisvert, the owner of Abco Inc., to form Tillotson Performance Polymers. Stanstead, Quebec-based Abco is a manufacturer of rubber seals and parts for the automo¬tive industry in the U.S. and Can¬ada.
Tillotson Performance Polymers is operating out of more than 20,000 square feet of the plant. It has a work force of seven, Tillotson said, but he expects it to grow to about 15 within a month or two.
Latex dipping machinery used to produce gloves and balloons at Tillotson's former company, Healthco International in Dixville Notch, N.H., has been moved to the Colebrook complex. The equipment was in storage since he closed Healthco in 2010 after his factory lease wasn't renew¬ed.
"We're working on the balloon machine first," Tillotson said. "Then we'll rebuild the glove machine."
The balloon dipping equipment soon will produce the Tilly High Performance Balloon line. That will be followed by the launch of the company's industrial glove line, under the Novafilm label, using the refurbished glove dipping line, he said.
While those products are expected to be mainstays within Tillotson Performance Polymers' operation, they weren't the first produced at the site.
"We shipped our first products—4,000 disposable, clear vinyl, one piece eyedroppers—from the Colebrook plant" in early February, shortly after the facility opened, Tillotson said.
He said the product originally was produced by Tillotson Rubber Co. Inc., one of several owned by Neil Tillotson, many years ago. The eyedroppers were the first part of an order for 750,000 from a customer in Massachusetts who Tillotson said "has bought this unique product from us for over 40 years."
Most of Tillotson Performance Polymers' offerings will be made from natural rubber, nitrile, neoprene, acrylic and butyl latexes along with a number of thermoplastics, including thermoplastic polyurethane.
"We are particularly interested in new bio-based polymers that can be adapted to the dipping process," he said. The firm intends to offer a wide range of goods to original equipment manufacturers.
"We are adapting our automatic dipping equipment to be able to make parts up to 32 inches long," Tillotson said. "These lengths currently require hand dipping, such as the bladders used to make golf club shafts, which are made by hand in France. We could also make a glove with a long cuff."
Additional polymer products will be added for future development of the business, Tillotson said, and all machines are being installed in a manner so that they can be adapted to make a variety of goods.
Skilled work force
Boisvert, his partner, said the workers employed at Tillotson Performance Polymers "are highly motivated, hard-working and skilled in high-volume dip manufacturing processes. This is essential for the competitive production of polymer parts."
He said he invested in the business because of the availability of experienced manufacturing employees in the area and the community's enthusiasm for a new manufacturing business.
It's ideal, too, that the Colebrook facility is located near the Connecticut River, separating New Hampshire and Vermont, in a foreign trade zone about 12 miles from the Canadian border, Tillotson said. Boisvert's business, Abco, is located on the Canadian side within sight of the local U.S. border station on the road into Vermont.
Small sections of the 103,000-sq.-ft. structure have been rented, Tillotson said, but he's looking for some bigger tenants to occupy larger portions of the plant. He figures being in a foreign trade zone is a big plus for other manufacturers, as it is for Tillotson Performance Polymers.
Officials from several organizations—including the Colebrook Development Corp., the New Hampshire Department of Resources and Economic Development, the Colebrook office of the New Hampshire Employment Security, and the Colebrook office of the New Hampshire Works—all played roles in helping Tillotson and Boisvert launch the business.
As part of the Workforce Investment Act, Tillotson Performance Polymers was able to receive financial assistance to allow it to bring in and provide job training for unemployed workers in the community, Tillotson said.
Rick Tillotson said he wanted to continue making polymer products using some of the technology from his father's companies even after he no longer operated Healthco and its factory in Dixville Notch. He was looking for the right location and opportunity when he came across the Colebrook facility.
Rick and his brother Tom followed their father into the rubber product business in the 1960s, and eventually Neil, Rick and Tom restructured Tillotson Rubber as a three-man partnership.
The company eventually moved its operations to the Balsams Grand Resort in Dixville Notch, which Neil Tillotson purchased out of bankruptcy in 1954. It was a shrewd move, Rick Tilllotson said.
His father's "secret was his economic insight, supplementing the weather-dependent hospitality business with a 24/7 rubber product factory, hidden beneath one of the buildings, to share the substantial cost of the property infrastructure," Rick said.
Ultimately, Rick and Tom branched out into other areas but remained involved in the family business.
Neil Tillotson continued to run his multimillion dollar group of companies until not long before his death at 102 in 2001. He set up Tillotson Corp. to oversee a trust and "made various plans in the last 20 years of his life that he hoped would continue to economically support the northern New England border region where he was born and educated," Rick said.
"However, to the dismay of the local communities, Neil Tillotson's Dixville enterprises were closed and sold by the trustees of his trust in 2011, 10 years after his death," he said.
Neil Tillotson enhanced the lives of many with the use of polymers, through the invention of the latex balloon in 1931, rubber coated work glove in 1946, rubber-backed broadloom carpet in 1956, latex examination glove in 1964 and, at the age of 92, the disposable nitrile glove in 1990, his son said.
Tillotson companies have made polymer parts for other businesses for more than eight decades.