Polartec LLC said it anticipates winding down operations in its historic Lawrence, Mass., factory over the next few years and will consolidate its U.S. manufacturing in existing operations in New Hampshire and Tennessee.
A specialist in performance fabrics for the outdoor apparel market Polartec, the former Malden Mills, said it has met with the leadership of the Unite Here union and provided a letter that outlines its intent to consolidate its U.S. manufacturing in Hudson, N.H., at its United Knitting plant, and Cleveland, Tenn., where it operates Polartec Tennessee Mfg. As part of that consolidation, the company said it anticipates winding down operations in Lawrence over the next few years.
“The intended change in Polartec’s manufacturing is the result of global marketing pressures, customer needs, and an overlarge facility in Lawrence that cannot be made to support Polartec’s production needs,” the company said. “In its most productive year, the company has only been able to use 25 percent of its Lawrence facility.”
Polartec said it intends to meet with local elected officials and employment development agencies to mitigate the impact of the consolidation and related wind-down on Lawrence and the region. These mitigation efforts include exploring the potential sale of all or portions of its assets in Lawrence, obtaining for impacted workers skills training and entries into other local companies with employment opportunities, and pursuing alternative uses for the Lawrence site that would have a positive employment impact on the city and region. However, there are no specifics to discuss at this time. The facility is said to employ about 300 workers.
Twenty years ago, a fire destroyed most of the huge textile factory in Lawrence where Malden made Polartec, one of the nation’s top winter apparel brands. But in a much-publicized act, mill owner Aaron Feuerstein continued to pay his workers through the Christmas season, and the factory he and his family had run for three generations was rebuilt, resulting in a large debt load.
Malden Mills struggled to recover from the fire and the high cost of rebuilding a modern manufacturing facility at a time of vast retrenchment in the domestic textile industry and a surge in imports. In 2007, the company filed for bankruptcy protection for the second time in four years, a move that cleared the way for its sale to Philadelphia-based private equity firm Versa Capital Management. The company’s name was later changed to Polartec.
Versa said Monday that it sustained Polartec’s manufacturing operations in Lawrence “despite structural inefficiencies at the company’s overscaled Lawrence facility,” but that Polartec’s global supply chain has evolved and markets have shifted, causing the company to respond to these competitive factors.
Versa said it supports Polartec chief executive officer Gary Smith and the management team’s strategic plan to work.
The company noted that with cooperation from state and federal agencies, Polartec has successfully retained hundreds of jobs and converted empty buildings into mixed-use and residential apartment communities in Lawrence.