Foxx Life Sciences Asia Headquarters, located in India. Courtesy photo.
Despite the lingering effects of a global pandemic and the Trump administration’s trade wars, foreign markets and investment by foreign companies remain a vital part of NH’s economy. In fact, the latest NH Globalization Report prepared by researchers at Plymouth State University (PSU) shows NH is primed to attract more foreign investment.
The pandemic exposed high risks to the global supply chain and as companies seek to minimize those risks, they are investing in areas where the supply chain is more regionalized. New Hampshire is well positioned to be the gateway to the East Coast for foreign-owned companies, according to the 2020 report released in January by PSU Business Professors Roxana Wright, DBA, and Chen Wu, Ph.D., building on 2018 and 2019 PSU studies.
The report found foreign direct investment (FDI) has been declining nationally since 2016 and was exacerbated in 2019 and 2020 when trade disputes and the pandemic caused U.S. exports and imports to decline and disrupted supply chains. As a result, Wright says, NH companies made supply chain resiliency a top priority. “A quarter of activities were supply chain focused. Clearly companies were trying to establish a stronger supply chain,” says Wright of NH’s corporate activity in 2020.
“We saw it as a positive sign that New Hampshire companies were taking action to build resiliency.”
Brian Ward, vice president of sales and marketing at Jewell Instruments in Manchester (pictured), a manufacturer of sensors and controls, meters and avionics, and industrial test equipment, says the trade wars had a greater effect on his supply chain than COVID-19. “We’ve actually had to work with our suppliers in pricing in the way we did our contracts, as tariffs became a reality,” he says. “We were able to work all those issues out, as well as COVID, and now have a really resilient supply chain.”
New Hampshire’s close proximity to Canada, as well as the presence of manufacturing, high-tech firms and foreign-owned firms in NH and neighboring New England states, should allow the Granite State to “benefit from regionalization, as more companies are aiming to increase the resilience of their supply chains and limit the high cost of disruptions,” the report states.
“We do anticipate some regionalization and supply chain redundancy. Even in our 2018 report, we found foreign businesses liked to be among other foreign businesses, and New Hampshire has a good presence,” says Wright. “Much of the 2020 activity was from Canadian companies. We anticipate Canadian companies will continue to see New Hampshire as an easy way to access the market. We don’t think it will slow down, rather it will increase.”
Regionalization provided Canadian companies an advantage in accessing export opportunities, says Wu. “You can see that Canadian companies, by reaching to New Hampshire and collaborating with local companies, expanded their exports to the U.S. and had better access to foreign markets.”
Foreign Investment on the Rise
While U.S. trade dropped in the first half of 2020, the good news is it “bounced up starting the third quarter due to the worldwide efforts to reopen economies.” And NH followed suit. The report states after a sharp contraction in the second quarter of 2020, the Granite State’s economy grew in the third quarter at a pace that ranked eighth nationally.
“We didn’t expect a lot of activity in 2020 with so many businesses closed. We were a little surprised, pleasantly, that foreign business activity was still strong,” Wright says.
New Hampshire entered the pandemic with a strong portfolio of investment and economic activity by foreign firms, with mergers and acquisitions, new establishments and business expansions increasing from 2016 to 2019, the report notes. In 2019, NH exported 9.8% more merchandise compared to 2018, reaching $5.8 billion in export value after four consecutive years of growth.
Wu says although NH exports declined 7%, the dollar value for 2020 was still higher than 2018 and close to the record amount in 2019.
Even with the decline in overall business activity in 2020, foreign firms continued to invest in NH, particularly in the electronics, information technology and financial services sectors as well as some activities in the energy and life sciences sectors. This included 25 “notable” investment and expansion projects initiated by or involving foreign firms, including five acquisitions valued at more than $100 million, according to the report. “[Most] foreign businesses in New Hampshire are in financial services, a sector that was less impacted by the pandemic than other traditional sectors,” Wu says.
NH Success Stories
Among NH companies that actually grew during the pandemic due to foreign markets are Foxx Life Sciences and Jewell Instruments. Foxx Life Sciences is a manufacturer of bioprocess pharmaceutical products and labware for research. Its headquartered in NH, with facilities in Salem and Londonderry, but sells to customers in 35 countries and has built partnerships in India and China, says Tom Taylor, president and CEO. “Recently we added a manufacturing distribution center in India to better supply all of our Asia customers,” he says.
Taylor says Foxx has grown 40% annually for eight out of the past nine years. “We were very concerned that we were not going to be able to hit that 40% growth,” says Taylor. “Our pharma and biotech business has done tremendously well, especially with vaccines, but our laboratory business is down about 30%.” He says the company quickly pivoted and produced more than a half million COVID-19 test kits and hit its revenue goal on Dec. 30.
Jewell Instruments does most of its manufacturing in NH but has a facility in Barbados, West Indies, for offshore manufacturing of its legacy products—analog and digital panel meters. In 2020, sales outside the U.S. surpassed domestic sales.
“It is interesting how COVID impacted our business. We went from 35% international to 55%. A lot more international business really helped us out in this COVID period,” says Ward. “One of our growth areas is in the sensors and controls division. That business actually went to 60% international. It’s been fantastic.”
Ward attributes that growth to the strength of the supply chain in foreign markets and to China, one of the biggest markets for trains, bouncing back from COVID faster than most countries.
“One of our No. 1 markets is rail transportation,” he says. Ward adds the trade wars forced Jewell Instruments to adjust supply chains early and left it better positioned than many manufacturers once COVID struck, as it already had international resellers or agents in each of the countries where it sells products.