Talk of a New Era in a City with a Long Textile History. By Emily Walzer
With plenty of affordable space available, a strong textile heritage and news of businesses in expansion mode, Fall River appears ripe for revitalization. Add to that a nearby state university with a respected textile degree and new funding for workforce training programs there’s good reason for execs to feel optimistic about made in America manufacturing in this area of Massachusetts once known as “Spindle City.”
Yet in a recent survey, Fall River was rated as the second worst city in the state only behind Bedford. There’s lots of vacant space because textile businesses like Duro and Quaker have closed up shop. And while Fall River has textile DNA, it has a lost a generation of potential workers as the industry has gone offshore.
As one Fall River textile exec explained: Fall River is a living contradiction, so the health and vitality of the city really depends on whom you ask.
Fall River’s official motto, dating back to the aftermath of the Great Fire of 1843, is, “We’ll Try.” That attitude resonates today as long-time Fall River-based firms like Bolger & O’Hearn as well as newcomers to the city like Good Clothing Company, Cleverhood and now Tweave, focus on a new era of textile success.
Opportunities & Challenges
“For us Fall River is the right fit,” says Kathryn Hilderbrand, who founded Good Clothing Company in 2015 as an affiliate to her established business located on Cape Cod. “There is a lot of heart in Fall River and a strong work ethic. I’m upbeat about what the future holds.” Her business occupies 17,000 square feet of a 50,000 square foot floor in a mill space four times that big. “We’re grateful to have the ability to continue to expand,” says Hilderbrand.
The production facility does “soup to nuts” development work for large runs as well as small batch manufacturing, with a client list of over 250, according to Hilderbrand, a master tailor, designer and business entrepreneur. The company recently added an its own in-house contemporary clothing line called Good Apparel. The business has 21 employees with the hope of doubling that number by year’s end.
This summer Good Clothing Company received a $117,760 grant from the Massachusetts Workforce Training Fund Program to hire and train new employees. The funding, which Hilderbrand said the company will match, will result in 45 new jobs by 2019, 30 of which will be brought on board in the next year.
“We want to be part of the training to allow individuals to develop skills they can take elsewhere,” says Hilderbrand. “We lost a generation to outsourcing.”
“I see great things going on with Merrow and the city as a whole,” Hilderbrand adds.
Shawn Honeycutt, sales manager of Bolger & O’Hearn also tips his hat to Merrow Sewing Machines for its expanded cut and sew services, as well as textile printer Swan Finishing and Matouk, a long-time Fall River maker of high-end bed and bath linens. Bolger & O’Hearn has been doing business for 45 years in Fall River and is considered a leader within the textile chemical industry. A recent innovation is Altopel F3, a fluorine-free durable water repellent and the company continues to invest in sustainable processes. “There is a foundation here for textiles; a base that companies could launch from,” says Honeycutt, who has been with Bolger & O’Hearn for 25 years. He mentions that housing is cheaper in Fall River compared to other areas nearby Boston and references support for projects reclaiming Fall River waterfront property. However challenges exist, states Honeycutt:
“Bolger & O’Hearn is just down the road from Duro, an important military business that closed recently and Quaker was a significant loss to the City. At one time the [upholstery] company had 3000 employees and 16 plants.” He notes, “So there are hills to climb.”Read more in the full issue...