VERNON, Conn. (AP) — A 76-year-old textile mill revived by a new owner eight years ago has failed to survive the weak economy and overseas competition and is set to close this summer.
Amerbelle Textiles in Vernon will shut down by August, leaving 70 employees jobless.
"I would have loved to have kept it going," said Doug Rimsky, the owner. "The workers really cared about their product. I kept hoping we could turn it around."
The loss of Amerbelle, which dyes, finishes and coats textiles used for space travel, canopies, flags, shoes and a range of other products, spells the end of the textile industry in the Rockville area where seven mills once operated, said Vernon Mayor George Apel.
"It's very, very sad," he said. "At this time in the economy, you don't want to see 68 people hurting for jobs. That's the saddest aspect of all."
Frenchie Pelletier, a machine maintenance worker who was leaving at the end of his shift Wednesday, said he's angry at the loss of the business and his job.
"All we've been hearing for the last five years is that they're losing profits," he said. "They're not losing money."
Pelletier, 73, said he came out of retirement seven years ago for a job at Amerbelle because he "couldn't stand being out of work." He said he's confident he will get another job, but worries about his co-workers. Unemployment in Connecticut was 7.7 percent in May.
"There are a lot of good workers in there losing their jobs," he said.
Chief Financial Officer Jon Moyer said Amerbelle could not compete with low wages overseas and the economy. He blamed the weak economy that has led to reduced customer orders, cheaper imports and environmental regulations that he said are necessary, but make U.S. companies less competitive than those in less developed countries.
Moyer, who came from the automotive industry to help revive Amerbelle, said he was brought in "to see if we can make one more final go of it."
"It was much more challenging than I thought," he said.
Rimsky, a third-generation textile business owner, bought the family-owned company in 2004 because his business, Lucerne Textiles in New York, was the largest customer of Amerbelle, he said.
"I said, 'Can I pay a higher price to keep you going?'" he recalled asking the owners at the time. "They said 'No, you can buy the company.'"
Rimsky said he spent $100,000, and secured $200,000 in federal money, to refurbish roofs, windows and other parts of the brick factory that stands on a winding downtown road in Vernon. Some buildings in the complex date to the 19th century.
He said he tried to take advantage of a niche market to make the mill succeed, processing products such as nuclear plant apparel, automotive gaskets, sail cloth, and life raft canopies. But long-run contracts that promote a more efficiently run business were needed, he said.
"I wasn't trying to make a lot of money. I was trying to break even," Rimsky said.
Christopher Clark, a history professor at the University of Connecticut, said the textile industry in New England dates to the 1790s and employed hundreds of thousands of workers. Along the Merrimack River in New Hampshire and Massachusetts alone, large mills employed tens of thousands of workers at the peak of the industry in the late 19th century.
As many as 1,530 mills operated in New England in the late 19th century, according to the Osborne Library of the American Textile History Museum in Lowell, Mass. That dwindled to 175 last year, according to Davison'sTextile Blue Book at the library, as business operators sought cheaper labor, first in the South and then overseas.