A Textile Tale

AMSTERDAM – Anyone looking for optimism in local economic development need not look far for an American manufacturer weaving a positive tale on a loom of renewed possibilities.

In a facility at 96 Guy Park Ave. sits a family-owned and operated textile and fabric manufacturer proceeding with plans for significant growth including new job openings.

Mohawk Fabric Co., a city business that has passed through family hands for 92 years, entered the spotlight in December when Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the company would receive $1.38 million in help to upgrade its fabric and textile manufacturing operation.

It’s one of 70 projects that were awarded a combined $59.7 million in the Mohawk Valley region, which includes Fulton, Montgomery, Herkimer, Oneida and Otsego counties.

Projects throughout the state were awarded a total of $738 million through round two of the Regional Economic Development Council initiative.

The company received the largest award in the Mohawk Valley.

For Mohawk Fabric, the funding means more jobs, new equipment and a money-saving solar energy system. It means the company can accommodate new orders and eliminate several outsourcing processes by purchasing the latest technology.

In a time when American textile manufacturing companies struggled, Mohawk Fabric grew. In 2011, it began upgrading its operation with a 14,000 square-foot expansion with help from a $48,000 Empire State Development grant.

The $1.38 million in funding specifically helps the company invest in two new knitting machines and install a 50-70-kilowatt solar energy system that could save the company $5,000 to $6,000 per year and reduce its energy footprint by 35 percent.

Construction of that project is already underway.

The expansion will allow it to accommodate for increasing demand.

Owner Dominic S. Wade said the technical knitting company also is looking to invest in a new warping machine, which could cost around $300,000.

He called the funding a “great vote of confidence in us” as the state recognized the smaller business that has grown since Wade joined the company in 2006 from five employees to more than 10 now.

“We have always maintained a lean management system with low overhead,” Wade said.

But the real key to its success is treating people with respect, making sure the company doesn’t overpromise its customers while maintaining a good work environment, he said.

The company was founded in 1922 by Benjamin Lichtman. His son Alfred later took over, and then Wade’s father-in-law Gregory Needham ran the company until 2011 when Wade and his wife Adiene took ownership.

In 2006 Wade, a New Jersey native and veteran of the war in Iraq, worked as the general manager of the company. His younger brother, Schuyler, recently joined him at the company now in the general manager role. Wade said his brother brings valuable corporate experience having been a junior executive at Verizon Wireless.

For Wade, family is important – especially in business. He’s been around family-owned businesses all his life with his parents and siblings’ ventures.

“That family connection and the local flavor – it still does exist,” Wade said. “It’s more than dollars and cents” that make a company successful, he added.

The company specializes in industrial fabrics for aerospace, automotive, filtration, medical home decor and other industrial applications. Products range from $5 to more than $100 per yard.

Think “reinforcement fabrics,” Wade said, noting that fabric is a part of almost everything in the consumer’s life.

The company offers Nomex, Dacron, polyester, nylon, carbon and other fabrics.

For dying and finishing processes, Mohawk uses another local business – Gehring Textiles in Dolgeville, another part of the success story, Wade said.

Wade said since the news broke about the funding, the company has received an outpouring of support from the community with random people calling and stopping by to wish the business good luck.

“That’s extremely humbling,” Wade said.

And it’s important for the city – historically a carpet and textile hub -to hear a positive story, especially for people who lived in the city for decades and witnessed the closure of past business, he said.

“It’s starting to swing back the other way,” Wade said. “With all the development on Route 30, there’s some really good news going on and [we’re glad] to be part of that with our own success story.”

He thanked the city, mayor, state, governor and other agencies that supported the company’s expansion.

“All these people have assisted us in the journey of converting from an old antiquated mill to a more polished version meeting today’s technology demands,” Wade said.

That’s especially important to competing in today’s economy, said Amsterdam Industrial Development Agency Executive Director Jody Zakrevsky, who helped the company apply for funding – about a yearlong process.

Competing with offshore companies like those in China and India that rely heavily on inexpensive labor can be difficult, he said.

“The thing American companies have been doing in the last five to seven years is modernizing their equipment to be able to produce faster and quicker through machines, and they’re keeping their labor costs [down],” Zakrevsky said. “While [Wade] doesn’t have a lot of employees, he’s more interested in keeping the business successful. He pays good wages and good benefits [to his employees], and he wants to keep his employees trained and wants to grow at a pace in which he’s competitive.”

State officials have not yet released a complete breakdown of the funding, but it appears to include a $50,000 grant from Empire State Development and $175,000 from the Small Cities program, Zakrevsky said.

The Small Cities funding is a forgivable loan, which means if Mohawk Fabric creates five jobs within the next two years, the loan will become a grant.

The breakdown of the rest of the funding hasn’t been released.

“[Wade] has a good company,” Zakrevsky said. “We just don’t submit applications for projects that aren’t good projects. He’s got a good project. We want to keep his company here, and it’s a pleasure working with him and his staff.”

Wade, Zakrevsky said, has developed a reputation for following through and not overpromising, a trait Wade says has helped propel the company in its growth, along with treating both customers and employees with respect.

“He does what he says he’s going to do,” Zakrevsky said.

Corporate Secretary Arlene Osborn, a city native, has worked at the company for 40 years. She started as the bookkeeper’s apprentice and took over the duties of the last bookkeeper when she retired

“I wish I was just starting out,” Osborn said, expressing excitement about the company’s direction. “There’s such a future here and so much growth. It’s a great place to work.”

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