Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Biddeford mill bucks textile trend

- [The WestPoint Home mill, in Biddeford (Press Herald Photo-Doug Jones)]-

Maine has a rich heritage that’s tied to textiles. At one time, mills manufacturing textiles were one of the state’s key industries, abundant along Maine’s rivers and waterways.

Biddeford, much like Lewiston and Waterville to the north, were thriving textile centers. In Lewiston, the Bates Mill turned out products and provided incomes that supported countless families, many whom had immigrated to the area, from Canada and elsewhere, to settle along the banks of the Androscoggin River.

To the south, the Pepperill Mills loomed large along the Saco River, an industrial boundary between the communities of Biddeford and Saco. This textile facility was a key part of this area’s economy for much of the 19th and a good part of the 20th centuries. As the global economy transitioned and moved towards the 21st century, the emphasis moved from quality products and craftsmanship to shareholders and lowering labor to its lowest cost. During the last two or three decades of the previous century, textile manufacturing became the domain of third world countries, where low-wage labor is abundant.

In this morning’s Portland Press Herald, in the business section, there was an article about WestPoint Home (formerly WestPoint Stevens), as they attempt to buck the trend and remain viable in an industry that has all but disappeared from our shores.

After a shaky stretch, which included emerging from bankruptcy in 2005, demand for WestPoint products, including the Vellux blanket has been robust. In fact, Albert Davis, factory manager at the mill said that if orders hold up as forecast, the company will reinstate its second shift early this summer and bring back as many as 80 jobs. These jobs would pay between $12-15 per hour.

Developers, however are concerned that if the mill continues to operate successfully, this could make their attempts at developing the mill and gentrifying the property more difficult.

You can access the Press Herald article, here.

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