SALEM, N.H. — The demand for their products is strong, but the Salem-based water testing company Horizon Technology is one of many New Hampshire businesses experiencing some growing pains.
The business' founders and other officials sat down with U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan Monday to discuss their needs. The New Hampshire Democrat toured the company's Northwestern Drive headquarters, viewing the American manufactured water sampling and testing tools that the company is now distributing worldwide.
"Growing innovation-based businesses is critically important, not only for New Hampshire's economy, but for the state's quality of life and the country's economy," the former governor said. "This is just a good way for me to touch base with business leaders in the state, their employees and hear what's on their mind."
What is on Horizon officials' minds is fueling their growth, a task that is complicated by workforce holes, government regulations and more.
The 40-employee company has started expanding recently as demand for water testing increases. Horizon needs job candidates with advanced degrees, particularly in chemistry.
Towns like Salem, Londonderry and Windham have found chemicals like perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorooctaine sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorocarbon (PFCs) in their water over the last two years. Concern over these toxic chemicals and others like them, entering the Merrimack River and groundwater has been a growing concern statewide, Hassan said.
"As we see more of these industrial sites being analyzed and existing longer and having more seepage into the groundwater, there are more concerns," Hassan said.
Clients are also asking about testing the pharmaceutical byproduct levels in their water, Horizon Vice President Alberto Correia said.
"For the first time ever, we're starting to get wastewater treatment facilities asking us about pharmaceuticals," he said, noting that people concerned about opioids often flush excess pills, which are generally not caught by existing water filters.
Studies have also shown that traces of antibiotics, painkillers and hormone drugs that aren't fully metabolized by the human body can end up in water.
The company is also grappling with potential changes from the Environmental Protection Agency.
The Trump administration has proposed changes to the Clean Water Act they said would help businesses and farmers. But, a regulation update that had been approved under the Obama administration and would help businesses like Horizon is now in limbo.
The updated Clean Water rule would lead to more efficient laboratory processes, reliable monitoring, increased accuracy and lower costs, Horizon officials said.
But, Correia said the company's biggest challenge is recruiting talented young employees. Horizon needs job candidates with advanced degrees, particularly in chemistry.
"Somehow, we've got to get the image out there that New Hampshire isn't Siberia," Correia said.
The former governor said she is looking for ways to support employers and employees at the federal level. Hassan said that she is continuing to advocate for a commuter rail to bridge the distance between employers and young employees who enjoy urban living. She has been talking to the new EPA administration about the Clean Water rule.
"We tend to have debates that regulations are either good for the environment or good for businesses. But, there are some win-wins here," she said.