At a meeting earlier this month former workers at Faribault Woolen Mills met the men who are bringing hope to what seemed like a hopeless situation at the iconic Minnesota manufacturer of wool blankets.
"Everything's setting pretty much the way it was at the exact date of last production," explains Dennis Melchert, who lost his job when the plant shut down two years ago. He walks though a factory that stopped in mid-shift - raw wool on the floor and half-finished blankets still on the looms. "It's kind of the last wheel turned, you know, and then silence," said Melchert.
Often cited as the oldest manufacturing company in Minnesota, Faribault Woolen Mills was founded in 1865, while Abraham Lincoln was president of the United States.
Back when the plant was humming, more than 150 workers made wool blankets by the hundreds of thousands, warming cruise ship passengers and Army cadets at West Point and supplying a healthy retail market.
Faribault Woolen Mills was the nation's largest manufacturer of wool blankets until the weight of foreign competition and a series of missteps by several owners left the old plant gasping for capital, unable to dig itself out of debt. Its looms were weeks from being shipped to a company in Pakistan.
Then the seemingly impossible happened. Chuck Mooty, the former president and CEO of International Dairy Queen, was searching for a meaningful new challenge. The woolen mill fit the bill.
"There was a calling in some way," he says. "This is where we should be right now."
Mooty partnered with his cousin Paul Mooty. The deal that will re-start the looms was set to close on Thursday. Chuck Mooty says production could begin as soon as August, with roughly 50 workers called back. He hopes to expand employment to triple that number within a few years.
Reprinted in part from KARE 11