Driving Downeast on Route 1, it's easy to go right past Elscott Manufacturing. The company's modest, one-story building looks more like somebody's house than a production center churning out circuit boards, transformers and coils for some pretty weighty clients.
Will Taylor, Elscott's president, points at some parts on a table just off the manufacturing floor. "The boats that are being built at Bath Iron Works, the radar systems that go on those Zumwalt ships, so they're all powered up from this place where we make these cards."
Elscott's client, Raytheon, builds these radar systems for the U.S. Navy. Defense contracts make up a large part of the company's $4 million annual revenue stream. Business at Elscott has never been better.
But a few years ago, Taylor wasn't certain the company would get here, let alone survive. His customers started demanding that Elscott get what's called ISO certification--basically a seal of approval for the manufacturer's products, ensuring that they meet global quality standards. "Without that certification, our customers wouldn't work with us," Taylor says.
Losing customers would put Elscott out of business. But getting the certification was going to cost the company as much as $60,000, money it didn't have lying around. So in a last-ditch effort to stay afloat, Elscott applied for a $150,000 grant through a new federal program called Trade Adustment Assistance or TAA.
"And when TAA came, and we applied for those grants, that grant enabled us to actually go out and get that certification, bring in the experts when we needed them so that we could then go ahead and continue on," he says.
The program has allowed Taylor to purchase cutting edge software and hire employees with the specialized skills to needed run it. But now, he worries that jockeying over free trade agreements in Washington will cut off access to future TAA funds, making it more difficult to re-certify his company and make future technology upgrades.
Second District Democratic Congressman Mike Michaud was instrumental in helping to secure the TAA funds for Elscott. But now, like many politicians in both parties in Washington, Michaud is grappling with the tricky politics of trade.
"Each individual member of Congress will have to determine how they're going to vote on that," Michaud says. "It's my understanding that TAA will be packaged in with the South Korea trade deal, and I'm adamently opposed to it because we're going to lose more manufacturing jobs."
President Barack Obama wants to see free trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Columbia move forward, but only if a renewal of the TAA program is part of the package. Michaud and other Democrats support TAA, but want nothing to do with trade agreements they believe will be devastating for American workers. TAA, they say, wouldn't be necessary if American jobs weren't being shipped overseas.
Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins didn't respond to a request for comment by airtime. The GOP is doing its own political two-step on the trade deals. Many of its members in Congress want to see the agreements move forward, but not if it means having to vote in favor of renewing the TAA program.