WINSLOW – As the nation goes, so goes Winslow.

Perhaps.

In the United States, 6.9 million jobs were eliminated between September 2008 to August 2010, according to a recent report by The Associated Press. During the last year and a half, 3.1 million jobs have been created.

“When the economy took a downturn, we had some businesses that unfortunately didn’t survive,” Town Manager Michael Heavener said. “But I think a majority of businesses have done well and I hope we’re on an upturn.”

Three large businesses in Winslow — Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Lohmann Animal Health and Orion Ropeworks — are in a period of job growth. Through a combination of tax incentives, grants and hard work, the town of about 8,000 could see an increase of 40 or more jobs in the coming months.

JOHNNY’S SELECTED SEEDS

In the early 1970s, 22-year-old Rob Johnston Jr. parlayed $500 into a fledgling business selling seeds to gardeners. Over the years, the operation evolved and grew into Johnny’s Selected Seeds — a mail-order business that serves customers all over the world.

In 2002, Johnny’s took root on Benton Avenue. Today, there are about 80 full-time and 50 seasonal employees, and it continues to grow.

Recently, Johnny’s created four new positions, and may be looking to hire more because of strong growth, spokesman Ben Sturtevant said.

In the past year, the company moved its call center and marketing department to Fairfield to make room for expansion in the seed germination lab, seed packing area, shipping and receiving and warehouse.

“We are interested in acquiring more space and more land to expand our business and our farm activities,” Sturtevant said.

LOHMANN ANIMAL HEALTH

While the U.S. economy was suffering through the Great Recession, Lohmann Animal Health on China Road continued to grow.

“In a bad economy, or downturned economy, we were able to increase our sales on an average of 10 or 12 percent a year for the last four years,” company President Frank Sterner said.

Lohmann, which is owned by a company based in Cuxhaven, Germany, manufactures vaccines for poultry. It sells 70 products in 50 different countries.

Currently, it employs more than 120 people and plans to add 10 to 15 jobs in the next year, Sterner said.

Part of the growth is attributed to a tax-increment financing district that was recently expanded by the Town Council.

In 2007, the council granted Lohmann a TIF that allowed the company to reinvest money that would have been paid to the town in property taxes. Since then, the company expanded its space and added 45 jobs. Earlier this year, the council expanded the TIF district to encompass the new space.

“Since we were granted the additional TIF, we’ll continue to expand,” Sterner said. “Every penny we’ve earned for the past 10 years has gone back into this facility. Every penny. No profit has gone to Germany … which is quite unheard-of.”

The added investment allows Lohmann to keep pace with its competitors Merck and Pfizer, two of the largest biotechnology companies in the world, he said.

ORION ROPEWORKS

Earlier this month, the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development invited the town to apply for a $400,000 community development block grant on behalf of Orion Ropeworks. If the application is accepted, Orion will use the money to upgrade equipment and hire about 25 additional employees, Heavener said.

Orion came to Winslow in 2001 when it bought the bankrupt company Crowe Rope. Today, Orion, a manufacturer of marine rope, has 65 employees.

Darryl Sterling, executive director of the Central Maine Growth Council, has worked closely with Orion and Heavener, the town manager, to secure the federal grant money, which is administered by the state. Sterling said Orion started developing its ranks in anticipation of the grant.

“They’ve already filled a lot of the jobs,” he said. “This is exciting. It’s not one of those wait-and-see situations; it’s already in full swing.”

Orion President Bob Lucey declined requests for an interview.

Heavener said he hopes the job growth in Winslow is a sign of a growing trend.

“Looking out my office window here, I certainly get the impression that things are improving, things are looking up, and the future is bright.”

Morning Sentinel Staff Writer Ben McCanna can be contacted at 861-9239 or at:

[email protected]