June 26, 2009
With the future of the Faribault Woolen Mills hanging by a thread, hope rests with a newly installed chief operating officer who knows his way around a textile mill.
"I'm piecing the end back up so it will run," says Merritt Loring as he makes a quick repair on a spinning frame as he walks a visitor through a maze of decades-old equipment. "My first job a few years ago was to actually take the empty spools and cut the waste off them."
That first textile job in Maine was child's play compared to the challenge facing Loring today. Faribault Woolen Mills, which bills itself as Minnesota's oldest company, is out of cash.
Its raw wool supply is down to a few days with no money to buy more. Without a minimum of $300,000 in additional operating capital, Loring says the company cannot continue. The Schwan Foundation, the Faribault Mills' majority shareholder, has already pumped millions of dollars into the failing enterprise and may not be willing to part with more. Keith Beheim, a trustee for the foundation, would only say discussions are continuing.
As recently as a few months ago, Faribault Mills proudly claimed to make more than half the wool blankets manufactured in America. But production has fallen as the company's financial footing eroded.
"The business is here, it just needs to be properly managed. Unfortunately it wasn't," said Loring who takes pride in having turned around several other money losing textile mills.
Trying desperately to honor Faribault Mills' military contracts, Loring recently started limited production after a two-month shutdown, putting 30 of the mill's 75 employees back to work.
"At this point we're day to day," he says. "Right now we're getting to the point where we need that cash infusion if we're going to continue to employ people."
Other efforts are underway to save the company as well. Last month the city of Faribault agreed to extend for five years more than $120,000 in back water bills. Two weeks ago the mill closed its retail store, reopening a smaller shop inside the factory to cut costs.
Reprinted from KARE 11, Minneapolis, Minn.