Learn About Resources Available to Help Grow and Strengthen Your Business

Three agencies have come together to demonstrate the resources available to help grow and strengthen your business.

The Greater New Bedford Career Center in partnership with the Massachusetts Office of Business Development, and the New Bedford Economic Development Council will host a Business Resources Presentation to help business owners learn about the many resources that are available to enable participants to better train and develop your workforce.

In addition, you will learn about ways to grow your business with the help of state, local and quasi-public agency programs such as:

* Help in finding qualified employees
* Business Planning opportunities through the Small Business Development Center
* Assistance in getting grant money for worker training
* Direction on loans for working capital, gap financing and equipment purchase

The presentation is free and will be held Tuesday, April 3rd starting with refreshments at 5:00 p.m. at the Career Center on 618 Acushnet Avenue.

Participants should RSVP by Monday, March 26. Contact Vickie Duarte at 508-990-4122 or email Vickie at vduarte@detma.org.

The Massachusetts Office of Business Development took the initiative to create the Business Resource Team at the state level to meet the demand of businesses requesting technical assistance to help grow their business, train their workforce, and find out about programs that help increase the bottom line.

The Greater New Bedford Career Center is one of the Massachusetts One Stop Career Centers. The Career Center is a primary link between employers and the regional workforce. The Center’s Business Services unit works with local employers to identify their workforce needs and provide candidates to meet the needs of the employer.

The mission of the New Bedford Economic Development Council is to proactively turn the ideas and hopes of businesses into solid results by offering real services through sales and marketing leadership, loan and incentive programs, technical assistance, and workshops. The NBEDC is also actively involved with city planning and development, and helps businesses take advantage of the growth opportunities the City offers.

New Bedford Demonstrates Strong Financial Position

Moody’s upgrades city to “A” rating based on significant financial improvements

New Bedford – Moody’s Investor Services upgraded the City of New Bedford bond rating to “A3,” marking the first time in 37 years that New Bedford has received an “A” rating. In a report outlining Moody’s opinion, the financial service cited several reasons for the upgrade including, New Bedford’s significantly improved financial position, sizeable tax base, and manageable debt position.

“This is proof positive that New Bedford is moving in the right direction fiscally and in terms of potential future development projects,” said Robert L. Culver, president/CEO of MassDevelopment, a quasi-public bond issuer in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. “Investors and companies review a borrower’s bond rating when deciding whether to invest or locate in a community. Congratulations to New Bedford’s elected officials and business leaders on this important milestone. This upgrade signals strong growth opportunities in this important SouthCoast city.”

Moody’s anticipates that New Bedford’s debt position will remain manageable due in large part to the state funding for school construction projects that Mayor Lang was instrumental in securing. New Bedford’s financial profile is expected to continue to improve based on the conservative budgeting practices currently applied by the financial management team.

“The bond rating increase is a very important indictor to finance houses, allowing the city to offer its bonds to a larger audience of buyers and at better rates–saving the city money.  In addition, the upgrade may be more important to the city as a general indicator of health and forward momentum which appeals to a broader audience of businesses,” said Michael Baldwin, Managing Partner of Baldwin Brothers Investment Advisors, headquartered in Marion.

“I am very proud of the work that has been accomplished by the city’s financial team in bringing fiscal stability and accountability to our city government. Moody’s improved rating is a tremendous demonstration of confidence in the City of New Bedford. The improved bond rating gives the city a lower interest rate when we borrow and lowers the cost of bond insurance rates,” said Mayor Lang of the recently issued bond rating.

The New Bedford Economic Development Council has received nearly a dozen phone calls from developers in response to the report offering congratulations. The upgrade provides another powerful incentive for business to look at opportunities in the city.

City Moves Forward with Fairhaven Mills Redevelopment

City Receives Two Bids for Fairhaven Mills
Plans Call for Retail, Residential Developments
By Aaron Nicodemus, Standard-Times Staff Writers

NEW BEDFORD — The most controversial parcel in the city took a major step toward development yesterday, as bids of $1 million and $200,000 were submitted for the Fairhaven Mills property.

Urban Investments Associates, a Roxbury development group led by Lewis Duane Jackson of Milton, offered to pay $1 million for the 6 acres of city-owned property at the site. Urban Investments offered a plan that echoes Mayor Scott W. Lang’s publicly stated hopes for the site by saving the existing Fairhaven Mills building with a mix of residential and retail uses, and building a hotel, supermarket, commercial office building, market-rate condominiums, two parking garages and a boat house/marina.

Dickinson Development Corp., a Quincy-based development company led by Mark C. Dickinson, offered $200,000 and proposed building a retail complex that would be anchored, most likely, by Home Depot. The plan also calls for another retail building and a restaurant, a mirror of the plan that Home Depot presented in the previous deal. In its proposal, Dickinson said it has purchase agreements with two of the private land owners at the site, neither of whom is John Meldon, who owns the Fairhaven Mills building.
After Mayor Lang had announced the RFP bid, the city had touted that 39 developers had taken out informational packets. By the time the RFPs closed, 49 companies and individuals had taken out packets. Only two offered a proposal.

In its request-for-proposals, the city had estimated its properties to be worth $2.6 million. In the previous proposal, Home Depot offered $10,000 for both parcels.

“Two-hundred thousand is 20 times what we were told we could get before, and $1 million is 100 times more,” Mayor Lang said. “I think this process has shown that the parcels are valuable.”

When asked if he is disappointed that only two developers submitted proposals, Mayor Lang said he is not.

“I saw in these two proposals that an awful lot of developers who showed an interest teamed up to put together these proposals,” he said. “I have heard that a number of developers who looked into Fairhaven Mills are interested in developing other sites throughout the city.”

Called “Whaler’s Landing at Fairhaven Mills,” the Urban Investments plan would be completed in three stages, according to its proposal to the city. The first phase would renovate the existing mill on Coggeshall Street into a mix of residential and retail, and a new commercial office building. Phase two would encompass the hotel, artist live-work space, affordable housing and a parking garage. The third phase would build out market-rate, waterfront condominiums, a boat house and another parking structure.

The proposal says Urban Investments’ “understanding of, and sensitivity to, local issues has contributed to its success.”

According to its proposal, Urban Investments has accomplished several developments, including a mill conversion into offices for Harvard University Law School; a 45-unit mixed income housing development called Lucerne Garden in Boston; and a 74-unit, mixed income housing development called Parmalee Court in the South End of Boston. Mr. Jackson also owns a vacant, one-story former First Federal Bank building on Union Street in New Bedford.

Urban Investments does have some heavy hitting development partners. Samuels & Associates is the retail management company for the proposal; Samuels & Associates has developed the South Bay Center in Dorchester, has developed and sold a $250 million portfolio of shopping centers, and recently completed a sprawling development called Trilogy in Boston’s Fenway neighborhood.

In Dickinson’s proposal, named “Coggeshall Place,” it is made clear that Home Depot is the preferred anchor tenant.

“Given Home Depot’s substantial interest in a New Bedford location, based on prior approvals sought for this site, we will meet with them and discuss their interest in being the anchor tenant,” the Dickinson proposal read.

Dickinson has built two other Home Depots, in Quincy and Reading, and has been designated as the developer for 30 acres of waterfront land in Dover, N.H. According to its proposal, the company has built shopping centers, hotels, office buildings and industrial projects from Florida to Maine. Dickinson’s bid has a significant local tie, as well: Its general contractor for the project is D.W. White Construction of Acushnet.

Perhaps the most notable company not to submit a bid was Berkshire Development LLP, a Springfield developer that had been buying up options on land around the city-owned property.

Berkshire Development had committed to pay as much as $10 million to the private owners, including more than $4 million to John J. Meldon, the owner of Building 4, the largest intact remaining mill.

Berkshire, however, allowed its purchase and sales agreements to lapse two weeks ago. Philip N. Beauregard, the lawyer for Mr. Meldon, said it was because the city had demonstrated bias for preserving the historically-designated mill.

Tim Traynor, a senior vice president with Berkshire, confirmed this week that his company believes the city changed its position in favor of preserving the mill.

“What really would have been more helpful is if we’d gotten some very clear direction from the city,” he said.

Mayor Lang said he “would have loved Berkshire to be involved.”

“It would have been very inappropriate to telegraph what the final disposition (of the RFP process) would be,” Mayor Lang said. “We told everyone it was an open process, open to everyone.”

Berkshire would have preferred the city dealing directly with the controller of the private properties and not go through a separate RFP process, Mr. Traynor said.

The nature of the Fairhaven Mills site — with its environmentally compromised land, proximity to a struggling urban center and numerous separate owners — means that it is only developable as a single parcel that includes both the private and the city properties, he said.

It might make sense to renovate Building 4 at some point in the future, but in order to develop the property now, at least half of Building 4 must be torn down, he said.

“The problem is that as much as the heart wants to preserve these things, the economics just don’t work, he said.

A lawyer for a second private property owner told The Standard-Times this week that after Berkshire decided not to finalize an original purchase offer of more than $2 million for his client’s property, it offered him “significantly less.”

Michael Kehoe, attorney for Felix Petrarca, said normally a property site whose ownership is divided between the public and private sectors is developed when a developer such as Berkshire ties up the private land. The city subsequently sells the developer the municipal property.

Berkshire was frustrated by the city process, Mr. Kehoe said.

“I believe they got the word from above that they weren’t going to get the city land,” he said.

Mr. Petrarca owned a large vacant site between Building 4 and a McDonald’s located on Coggeshall Street.

Also not submitting bids were a number of large development companies, like SBER of Providence and Baltimore; Sperry Van Ness of Little Compton, R.I., and others.

A 23-member evaluation committee, consisting of every City Council member and city department heads, will meet on Feb. 26 at 6:30 p.m. in the third floor meeting room of the New Bedford Public Library to discuss the proposals. The evaluation committee will recommend a winning bid to Mayor Scott W. Lang.

Contact Aaron Nicodemus at anicodemus@s-t.com
Date of Publication: February 17, 2007 on Page A09

New Bedford Fishing Fleet Number One Again

New City Port Hauls in Top Revenue
By Joao Ferreira, Standard-Times Staff Writer

NEW BEDFORD — New Bedford is the No. 1 money-making fishing port in the nation for the sixth consecutive year.

New Bedford fishermen landed $282.5 million in fish in 2005, an increase of $75 million from 2004, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Service.

Again, Dutch Harbor-Unalaska, Alaska, ranked second at $166.1 million in landings.

New Bedford’s No. 1 position remains intact, despite a decrease in landings from 175.1 million pounds in 2004 to 153.4 million pounds in 2005, a 30 percent drop.

Jim Kendall, a fishing industry consultant from New Bedford, called the results “heartening” in the face of the ever-tightening days-at-sea regulations.

“With less days you would expect it to be worse all the time, but the stocks appear to be a little better than a lot of people think,” he said. “It’s quite a bit of honor to be the number one port.”

He estimated the fishing industry has a $1.6 billion impact on the local economy — a spin-off value of six times the catch value.

Scallops once again were the main contributor to the city’s valuable catch, but groundfish prices have jumped due to low supply and high demand.

“Groundfish prices right now compared to last year, they’ve got to be up 40 percent,” said Richie Canastra, co-owner of the New Bedford Seafood Auction. “The demand has been strong for fresh fish. It’s bad news for the consumer because prices are high.”

Scallops sold for about $8 per pound at the New Bedford Seafood Auction yesterday.

Prices spiked last December at $9 to $10 per pound.

“Obviously, scallops probably played the biggest role,” Mr. Kendall said.

The further tightening of days-at-sea regulations, with a further 18 percent cut of days at sea for groundfish possible in 2008, could have an impact on the industry in the coming years.

Mr. Canastra said new regulations “could be bad news,” but he still predicts that New Bedord will remain the top revenue port in the nation.

“I believe that we will stay number one with the scallops,” he said. “In groundfish, the volume is going to be about the same.”

With fewer days to fish, New Bedford dropped from seventh to eighth in 2005 in terms of the amount of fish landed.

Gloucester, the only other Massachusetts port on the list, ranked 10th in pounds of fish landed.

Dutch Harbor-Unalaska remained the top port for landings for the 17th consecutive year with 887.6 million pounds of fish and shellfish unloaded in 2005. That represents a 1.2 million-pound increase in landings over 2004.

Reedville, Va., slipped into the No. 3 position with 373.4 million pounds, down from 400.5 million pounds in 2004. Intracoastal City, La., jumped from fifth to the No. 2 position with 464 million pounds in 2005, up from 301.8 million pounds in 2004.

The port in Los Angeles is new to the top 10 list, ranking ninth with 139.2 million pounds.

The total domestic commercial landings for 2005 were 9.6 billion pounds, valued at $3.9 billion, the fisheries service said.

Contact Joao Ferreira at jferreira@s-t.com
Date of Publication: February 03, 2007 on Page A05

New Antiques District Buds in South End

New Bedford – New Bedford Mayor Scott W. Lang, joined City Council President Leo Pimental, Executive Director of the New Bedford Economic Development Council Matthew Morrissey, and the new owners of “New Bedford Antiques at the Cove” at the official ribbon cutting ceremony. City officials welcomed New Bedford Antiques at the Cove to its new home in the historic Kilburn Mill at 127 West Rodney French Boulevard, situated at the Gateway to the City’s peninsula. The new showroom is only a short distance from the downtown and north end business districts, as well many of the city’s cultural and recreational attractions.

“I am happy that this business will remain in New Bedford and now will attract tourists and residents alike to the beautiful South End of our city,” said Mayor Lang.

The new owners, Alan Harman, Steven Lefkowitz, and Judd Zeitz, each have over 30 years of business experience in New Bedford and by opening their new showroom in the historic Kilburn Mill they show their commitment to the city. The owners plan for this retail area to be one of the largest and finest enclosed showcases for antiques and antique furniture in the greater New England area.

“Between the three of us, we have a history of over 150 years of family owned business in New Bedford,” Zeitz said. “We are very fortunate we had the chance to move New Bedford Antiques to a location owned by Steve. This way, our dealers have the opportunity to keep their businesses going. Many dealers depend on the profit they make here,” he added.

The showroom expands across more than one acre of floor space in the city’s turn-of-the-century mill and is designed so that antique dealers can rent space to sell their own collectibles. Currently, more than 250 dealers have established displays in the new showroom.

“Again, this is another example of a New Bedford business having to make and decision and deciding to make New Bedford its home. New Bedford Antiques at the Cove will no doubt be an anchor for business in this part of city, and for its dealers who created a small business here that otherwise may not exist” remarked New Bedford Economic Development Council Executive Director Matthew A. Morrissey.

New Bedford Antiques at the Cove is easily accessible from Rte. I-195, and is only one hour south of Boston and 30 minutes east of Providence. The antiques showroom is open Monday through Saturday from 10AM to 5PM and on Sundays from noon to 5PM.

State Awards Another Adams Grant to AHA!

For a third consecutive year, New Bedford’s AHA! (Art-History-Architecture) project has been awarded a significant cultural economic grant from the Commonwealth’s Mass Cultural Council (MCC). The award of a $60,000 Adams Grant to New Bedford’s AHA! Project as well as $3,000 planning grant to the City of New Bedford for work on the Creative Economy was announced at a February 8th ceremony at the UMass Dartmouth Star Store.

Mayor Scott W. Lang, speaking at the awards ceremony said, “Clearly this is a moment of pride for all the downtown AHA! partners and the City of New Bedford.” The City has provided a significant match for the three Adams Grants.

Also speaking at the ceremony were AHA! Steering Committee members and staff as well as Christina Hogan, Program Coordinator, John and Abigail Adams Art Program at the Mass Cultural Council, and Dan Hunter, Executive Director of MAASH (Massachusetts Advocates for the Arts, Sciences and Humanities). They praised what has been accomplished and looked ahead at the excitement of continued success and new initiatives in 2007.

AHA! is a collaborative nonprofit project that coordinates with over thirty arts related businesses and organizations downtown every 2nd Thursday night. The project began in July 1999 and presented its 92nd evening this February marking a significant track record of continuity and growth. The AHA! concept and the project’s ongoing ability to present the city’s diverse range of cultural venues and downtown businesses in a fresh and compelling way has made it a leading model for cultural economic projects across the state.

Projects in cities such as Lowell, Hyannis, and Brockton have looked to the work of AHA! specifically as they have created their own monthly downtown culture nights. The MCC has worked closely with AHA! since its start with a focus on stimulating income and fostering fruitful partnerships between arts institutions, businesses, and local governments.

“Many thanks to the generous support of the Mass. Cultural Council. The creative economy is a critical component of the city’s overall economy, and we look forward to doing as much as possible in this vital area in 2007,” said Matthew A. Morrissey, Executive Director of the New Bedford Economic Development Council.

To find out more visit MCC at www.massculturalcouncil.org or AHA! at www.ahanewbedford.org

City Forges Partnership with UMD Business School Around New Bedford Economy

By Eileen Peacock Dr. Peacock,
Dean of the Charlton College of Business at UMass Dartmouth

The Charlton College of Business recently partnered with New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang’s office on an exciting approach to problem solving. In January 2007, a group of 14 UMass Dartmouth master of business administration students worked closely with the mayor’s office and the New Bedford Economic Development Council to bring concepts of innovation and creativity to real-world problems. It was a fine example of a learning partnership between a city and a business school, one that generated fresh ideas and gave a group of graduate business students a chance to apply lessons learned to urban problems.

As dean of the Charlton College of Business, I worked with Mayor Lang to help jump-start this program. I appreciate Mayor Lang’s willingness to allow our students to use the city as their laboratory. Our business graduate students worked hard to give value to the city. They met every evening for three weeks in City Hall, occupying the fourth-floor loft space, listening, thinking, brainstorming, planning, creating and innovating around three projects associated with three inner-city business districts.

The challenge for the class was to generate ideas for improving the business climate and infrastructure for the North End, South End and central business districts of New Bedford.

The students had a fast-paced three weeks to learn the concepts of creativity and then to apply what they had learned. Their leader was Garry Clayton, a visiting professor with a variety of experiences in the application of strategic and innovation concepts. He was an ideal professor for this class because he is not a native of SouthCoast and therefore came to us with the fresh perspective needed to innovate. Professor Clayton challenged the students to think “outside the box.” The students responded well by developing great ideas that ultimately could benefit the business environment of the city.

Three general approaches emerged, using the strengths of each district while looking at new opportunities to pursue.

The North End group decided to leverage off the existing strengths. For example, one group proposed the creation of a “Little Portugal,” drawing upon the strengths of existing business arrangements and the proximity of the water.

As is the case when bright people are encouraged to share their thoughts and opinions, brainstorming sparked many exciting ideas. The merits of beautification projects along Interstate 195 and Route 18 were discussed. The idea was that creative landscaping would be welcoming to visitors approaching the city. Better and increased signs to highlight what the city has to offer also would draw visitors who would spend their money in the city. Some thought that an open-air pavilion in River Front Park to host parties and music events would attract crowds to the area. Other ideas included a bike path along the waterfront, possibly interlocking with the Fairhaven bike path; and developing Acushnet Avenue, making it for pedestrians only, creating an entrance to the area. Students also examined the idea of creating city ordinances to enhance attractiveness of the area and align city departments to the goals of business development to ensure upkeep of revitalization efforts.

The Central business group looked for opportunities to connect the administrative, heritage and waterfront areas. For example, this group suggested creating additional green space to link areas of that district.

For the longer term, our students envisioned creation of dormitory space for university students and development of a new library with a cultural center offering creative spaces for podcasting, art studios and drama practice areas. These ideas would increase foot traffic in the city and allow small businesses to flourish.

The South End group focused on creating attractive areas and finding ways to inform visitors about its amenities. It was suggested that a “gateway” could inform visitors about beaches and waterfront areas.

Again, beautification was a theme. The Cove Road beach area, the mills on Rodney French Boulevard, the vacant parcel on Orchard Street, the Orpheum Theater and an overall maintenance beautification plan were all fair game. Our students discussed plans for Cove Road that included creating a park where the hurricane barrier stands, hiding the barrier with gently sloping areas, creating an amphitheater, and on the water side a boardwalk, and a floating boat dock for people to enjoy the water.

The mills on East Rodney French Boulevard were seen as a perfect place for a school offering trade training. And the restoration of the Orpheum Theater, along with enhanced dining opportunities, was discussed as a key to bringing visitors in the evenings.

The class also made some global recommendations, such as extending the bike path from the North End to the South End and adding trolley service to connect parts of the city that are divided by highways.

These MBA students came away from the class exhilarated by their work and interaction with city officials, recognizing that with some creative approaches, there is great potential and great business development opportunities for the city of New Bedford.

Date of Publication: February 14, 2007 on Page A16

Suit Maker Goes ‘Lean’ to Keep Jobs in U.S.

National Public Radio
Morning Edition, January 24, 2007

Frank Langfitt, NPR Odette Almeida, from Angola, says she likes the new manufacturing system, because it allows her to move more and reduces aches and pains.

If you check the tag on a men’s suit these days, chances are it says “made in China” or Mexico — maybe even Hungary.

But if the suit is a Joseph Abboud, it still says “Made in America.” In fact, the company is one of the few that continues to produce suits in the United States. And instead of sending jobs overseas, Abboud is hiring more people here at home.

The company’s factory is located in New Bedford, Mass. The town once employed more than 5,000 workers making men’s tailored clothing.

“Today, this is the only remaining factory,” says Tony Sapienza, the chief operating officer of Joseph Abboud.

Last year, Sapienza hired 90 new workers. He has to pay them $4 an hour more than his foreign competitors pay their employees. But by keeping production in the United States, he says he can use higher-skilled workers to make the company’s $700-$1,000 suits. And he can get those suits to stores ahead of the competition without some past problems.

“We had a truck hijacked by Mexican bandits before it got to the border,” Sapienza recalls. “And we lost an entire shipment of 4,000 suits and disappointed our retailer, who subsequently said he couldn’t trust us and moved the production to a different brand.”

Sapienza also wants to pick up the pace on the factory floor. He’s building what’s called a lean manufacturing system, so he can respond to hot sellers and get tailored suits to customers in just a week.

“Today, if a Nordstrom wants more Joseph Abboud product in the middle of September — because the weather turned cold and folks ran into the store and started buying suits and stripes were popular — we can’t deliver mid-season goods,” he says. “Whereas in a lean environment, if we can make a sufficient quantity in a two or three-day cycle and ship it to the store, we can actually fill replacement orders and drive a business.”

There is no magic to lean manufacturing. Under the old system, employees stitched pieces on their own. In a lean system, they work in teams, rapidly moving fabric through a circuit.

They are also trained in various skills, so if pieces back up, they can jump to another job.

Some workers like the new system. Others don’t. Among the latter group is Louise Sanchez, who has worked for the Abboud factory for the past 17 years doing the exact same thing: stitching sleeves.

Sanchez preferred working alone at her own speed. Now, she’s part of a team. And if she doesn’t move fast enough, other workers give her a hard time, because it affects everyone’s pay.

“It was just me doing a bundle. And I used to finish the bundle, tie it up and just put it aside,” she says. “But now, I do a sleeve and I have to pass it on to the other operator. It’s just, it’s just a little nerve-wracking.”

But Sanchez’s coworker, Odette Almeida, is a fan of the new system. Almeida is not earning quite as much under the team-pay structure, but she says doing a variety of jobs is better for her muscles.

“I’m moving more,” Almeida says. “It’s better for my body, right. I feel it in my neck, because all day it was the same position. Now, I’m moving more. It feels better.”

Workers like Almeida could have fought the changes. After all, they’re members of a union, UNITE-HERE. But instead of resisting, union leaders actually helped management sell the new system to its members.

Joe Nunes, the local union chairman, says employees were initially suspicious.

“In the first weeks, workers thought this was a trick by the company to lay off some people,” Nunes says. “As soon as they recognized the company was hiring everyday, hiring everyday, then they realized their job was secure.”

The union also had to give up some strict work rules to help the company compete.

Warren Pepicelli is a vice president with UNITE-HERE. He says that after seeing so many jobs go overseas, the union knows it has to be flexible.

“Knowledge does not come suddenly,” Pepicelli says. “It comes through years of experience — and sometimes, comes through knocking your head against a wall.”

So far, the Joseph Abboud formula seems to be successful. Last year, the factory increased production, and sales are up 15 percent. In a world where pressure from low-wage labor is intense, Sapienza expects the strategy to work for five years.
After that, he says the company will have to change further to stay competitive.

Made in New Bedford: A Suit Designer Retools

Made in New Bedford: A Suit designer Retools – Abboud Factory bucks US Trend
By Jenn Abelson, Globe Staff | January 7, 2007

NEW BEDFORD — Last year the Joseph Abboud suit factory did something not seen in at least a decade in this old textile capital: It added jobs.

The men’s suit designer expanded its workforce nearly 20 percent to 590 employees and is investing millions of dollars in a sleek new production system at a time when other apparel makers have shrunk or disappeared from the struggling seaside city.

The strategy also bucks a nationwide trend of clothing manufacturers moving operations abroad where labor is cheaper, tax incentives abound, and US companies can avoid the rising costs of healthcare and energy at home. Over the past decade, jobs in apparel manufacturing have dropped from 443,200 to 196,500 across the country, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But Abboud executives say they needed to go against the grain to survive in a fashion industry that has come under increasing pressure to get products more quickly to the stores and to meet growing demand for custom-made garments.

“When everyone else was pulling away from unions and American production, we made a strategic decision to embrace the factory,” said Marty Staff, chief executive of Joseph Abboud, the high-end menswear-maker carried in select retailers including Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom. “We couldn’t find a place outside our factory where we could get the quality and flexibility to satisfy our needs.”

In 2004, Abboud executives considered shifting its suit manufacturing abroad — where workers would earn $1 an hour instead of $12 in New Bedford. But they decided part of the company’s appeal lay in its cachet as a custom designer whose $700 to $1,000 suits are made in America. They also realized that outsourcing production, the favored strategy of many retailers, carried with it hidden costs. Chief among them: the company would lose control over the shipping time and probably be forced to make more merchandise than needed because of production minimums mandated at many overseas factories.

Committing to a future in New Bedford, however, has required some big changes. Over the past year, Abboud has begun implementing lean manufacturing, a concept promoted by automaker Toyota, which aims to move products more quickly through the factory. In 2004, it took Abboud about five weeks to make suits. Now, it takes about a week.
“What Joseph Abboud is doing is counter to the market,” said Marshal Cohen , chief retail analyst at NPD Group in Port Washington, N.Y. “It allows them to be more nimble and separate themselves and be in control of what they’re doing. Their destiny is in their own hands. It’s better than relying on traditional forms of importing.”

For New Bedford, the creation of jobs is much needed. “It’s a real confidence booster,” said Mayor Scott W. Lang . “It was an industry that looked like it was going to be wiped out from New Bedford.”

Large brick mill buildings surround Abboud’s factory, many vacant, others getting redeveloped. At the turn of the 20th century, New Bedford had more than 50 textile factories, including Wamsutta Mills, one of the world’s largest cotton weaving plants at the time. Many of these factories shut down or left the city for cheaper regions of the country, and increasingly, overseas.

More than 4,000 workers made men’s apparel in New Bedford less than 15 years ago, including a large plant that supplied menswear for JC Penney stores until the plant moved to Southeast Asia several years ago. Today there are fewer than 600 men’s apparel employees in New Bedford — all working for Abboud.

The company, founded by Boston native Joseph Abboud and now headquartered in New York, has grown to $400 million in annual sales over the past two decades. The hope is that the eventual savings from adopting lean manufacturing will justify keeping its only suit factory in the world in a high cost region.

Lean manufacturing is an entire way of looking at production to eliminate waste and increase efficiencies throughout the system, from receiving orders to shipping. For Abboud, it’s required everything from retraining workers to moving its distribution center to New Bedford. (Relocating the facility from New Jersey shaved nine days off shipping time to customers.)

The biggest change for Abboud came in realigning the work flow, developing a collaborative process that organizes workers into groups that assemble, for example, one jacket at a time. A worker stitches a single sleeve or pocket, and then passes the garment to the next person in the group. This saves time compared with the conventional system in which employees work individually on batches of garments doing one single task, such as sewing buttons on the jacket. Suits often get backed up because workers are waiting for fellow employees to finish their batch of 20. For the lean process, however, workers are trained for more than one skill, so they can jump in and help prevent a backup if other stations get behind.
Under the new system, Abboud can better manage its inventory so that it makes suits customers are buying, rather than guessing six months ahead what they want. This agility is important to meet growing pressures — created, in part, by cheap chic merchants like H&M and Zara to provide consumers new fashions every week.

Inside the brick Abboud factory in New Bedford, fluorescent lights hang from the ceilings as the employees — the majority of Portuguese descent, reflecting the large community here — work at stations on hardwood floors.

The company plans to have one-third of its production using the new team system by the summer to help accommodate the growing custom business, which took in $1.3 million in 2006, the first full year it operated, according to Anthony Sapienza, Abboud’s chief operating officer. That segment is expected to grow to $5 million in the next two years.
Some employees used to working by themselves have been resistant to the new format, where incentives are based on group performance. For now, employees have volunteered to test the new system, and only one has asked to be transferred back to the individual batch process. The company plans to switch entirely to lean manufacturing over the next several years, Sapienza said.

“It’s a big difference, work goes much faster. We help each other,” said Odette Almeida , 35, of New Bedford. Almeida works at the end of an eight-person team sewing and reinforcing buttons on jacket sleeves. There’s a sign above her setting the goal at 380 sleeves a day for the team.

The group meets that goal about 90 percent of the time, better than other teams working on different parts of the suit. The transition to lean manufacturing hasn’t paid off yet, and it isn’t expected to for another few years, Sapienza said. But executives are confident that the decision to stay in New Bedford is the right one.

“We want to keep these jobs in America,” Sapienza said. “But you have to be creative, you have to be unique.”

Jenn Abelson can be reached at abelson@globe.com.
© Copyright 2007 Globe Newspaper Company.

City’s Marine and Science Technology Quest Center Graduates Its First Company

John Sladewski / The Standard-Times BIRNS Aquamate manufactures and markets underwater electrical connectors used on oil rigs, submarintes, and other aquatic apparatus. Eli Bar-Hai, operations manager of the BIRNS company explains some of the equipment on display.

Seaworthy Success Story
Maker of Waterproof Electrical Connectors Outgrows its Incubator
By Becky W. Evans, Standard-Times Staff Writer

A new marine technology firm that sells underwater electrical connectors is leaving the nest today to grow and prosper on its own.

BIRNS Aquamate is scheduled to move out of New Bedford’s Quest Center on Purchase Street into a new office at Howland Place on Orchard Street.

“We need a larger space,” operations manager Eli Bar-Hai said.

The Quest Center opened in September 2005 as an incubator for startup companies specializing in marine science and technology. The City of New Bedford, UMass Dartmouth and the SouthCoast Development Partnership created the center to nurture the region’s emerging identity as a marine science and technology hub.

BIRNS Aquamate is the incubator’s first success story, said David Sheehan, the center’s executive director.

The company moved into the incubator six months ago, utilized the center’s resources to connect with local customers and now plans to grow its business while remaining rooted in New Bedford.

“That’s the whole idea,” Mr. Sheehan said. “We expect to have them here in New Bedford for a long time.”

The company, which currently employs two people, is expected to hire an additional seven to eight employees within the next five years as it expands its operations to include manufacturing. Mr. Bar-Hai said he will likely hire and train three to four “technical people with electrical backgrounds.”

BIRNS Aquamate was founded as a joint venture between the Israeli firm Zevulun Marine Systems and California-based BIRNS Inc. Both companies manufacture waterproof electrical connectors used in submarines, sonar and video equipment and other deep sea applications.

BIRNS Aquamate was established to market the connectors to U.S. companies.

“We needed to be on the east coast, where there were no companies manufacturing underwater connectors,” Mr. Bar-Hai said.

Being located near customers is important since many of them need the connectors to be shipped quickly to avoid costly project delays, he said.

New Bedford was selected for its central location within New England’s growing marine technology sector and its proximity to research institutions such as UMass Dartmouth and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

The city’s “whaling history and its colorful past” enchanted Mr. Bar-Hai, who said he splits his time between New Bedford and Israel.

“I think the city holds a lot of potential,” he said.

Since moving into the Quest Center, BIRNS Aquamate has established customer relationships with local entities such as Teledyne Benthos in North Falmouth and the UMass Dartmouth School for Marine Science and Technology in New Bedford. It has sold and shipped connectors to companies in Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Brazil, Australia and South Africa.

Christopher Jakubiak, a project engineer at SMAST’s marine turbulence lab, said he recently received price quotes from BIRNS Aquamate for electrical connectors that would be used on underwater instruments that are still being developed.

The school uses the connectors for underwater vehicles and other instruments that collect information on water temperature, depth and salinity.

The connectors are “definitely the kind of thing that almost everyone has some use for,” he said.

Ranging in price from $20 to $500, the connectors come in various shapes and sizes and are gold-plated to retard corrosion in seawater. They are in high demand by three growing industries: offshore oil and gas exploration, oceanographic and climate research and the military.

The Quest Center was a “very good place” to launch the company, Mr. Bar-Hai said.

He praised the staff for being helpful and creating networking opportunities. The few companies at the incubator shared knowledge and Fathom Research, a scientific diving company, recently placed an order with BIRNS Aquamate, he said.

For the concept to work better, the incubator needs to attract more marine technology firms, Mr. Bar-Hai said.

“When they have 10 companies that are related, that will make a big difference,” he said.

After BIRNS Aquamate departs, the Quest Center will have four tenants: the diving company, an alternative energy consulting firm, a Web development group and a company that designs launch and recovery systems for underwater robots.

Two additional companies that specialize in environmental science are “under consideration” for the incubator, Mr. Sheehan said.

Contact Becky W. Evans at revans@s-t.com
Date of Publication: January 28, 2007 on Page D01

www.birnsaquamate.com