Berry Amendment Brings Jobs to Connecticut Mill

August 26, 2016

There's an American revival story tucked into the rolling hills of northeastern Connecticut.

And in a tour of the American Woolen factory on Stafford's Furnace Avenue this week, U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney was not shy about pointing that out. The success story can be traced from the heyday of the domestic textile industry - in which towns like Stafford were hotbeds - to a pre-World War II-era law that attempted to keep manufacturing in-country to a collaboration between state and federal government and an entrepreneur that wanted to make the whole thing work.

"American Woolen is true success story for eastern Connecticut," said Courtney, the 2nd District Democrat. "Just three years ago, the Warren Mill was sitting empty and unused after the former owner was forced to shutter the company. Now, we have a thriving company once again occupying the space just as the market for made-in-America garments is growing in popularity."

The factory was originally the home of Warren Mills, a business founded in 1853 that became America's most prominent manufacturer of fine camel hair and cashmere woolen fabrics.

Another giant of the era was the American Woolen Company, the leading producer of worsted and woolen cloth at the beginning of the 20th century. American Woolen owned and operated 58 textile mills throughout New England and employed more than 40,000 people.

Both could have faded away and crumbled like many of the old mills in north central Connecticut, but this week, Courtney spent some time at American Woolen, a company whose revival he helped facilitate in 2014.

The new American Woolen and the old Warren Mills complex came to life with an investment by American Woolen CEO Jacob Harrison Long, a $300,000 state Department of Economic and Community Development Job Creation Incentive Loan, a $100,000 matching grant through the Small Business Express Program and a federally subsidized cleanup initiative.

The company hired 38 people after the purchase of the mill.

"The Warren Mills site is a reminder of the vital role our state and residents played in the emergence of the country's vibrant manufacturing industry. To this day, it continues to be one of the most significant cultural, historical and economic assets you will find in Eastern Connecticut," Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said at the time.

Courtney watched as the company turned on wool carding and spinning machines that have been dormant for more than twelve-years since the time before the former Warren Mill had closed. While American Woolen has been manufacturing fine worsted and woolen fabrics with spun wool from other sources for several years, flipping the switch on Tuesday marked the first time the company has been able to spin wool fiber in-house, Courtney said.

With the new capability to spin wool fiber, the company will start producing fabric that will be used to manufacture pea coats for the U.S. Navy.

"With the restoration of the legacy machines to spin wool fiber, the company will be now be able to add the U.S. Navy to its growing list of clients, which includes several high-profile national brands," Courtney said. "The turnaround of this mill has been incredible, and better than we could have ever imagined just a few years ago."

Courtney said in 2013, his district director, Ayanti Grant, worked with the prior owner and the state to facilitate "a quick transaction to put American Woolen in control of the property." It was a done deal in 2014.

Courtney said Long has a "dynamic vision for American Woolen that has resurrected this company and set it on a path for future success."

Long said, "Rep. Courtney was instrumental in American Woolen's pursuit of the Warren Mill complex. His insight to the underlying value of Warren helped to shape our investment program. When public support is combined with private funding, great things can happen."

Long said since 2014, the company has been expanding its private sector business and has secured several well-known clients, including J.Crew, Hickey Freeman and Bonobos. And there are the Navy crews too. The company will now offer full wool fiber to fabric capabilities for the U.S. Navy's pea coat program.

American Woolen's opportunity with the U.S. Navy is a direct result of the "Berry Amendment," a pre-World War II law that stipulates the U.S. Military must purchase garments made in America, Courtney said.

Reprinted from Tolland Patch