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Revived Mill Keeps Jobs In Town

In 1852, Alexander Faribault founded the Minnesota town bearing his name.

Thirteen years later, the Faribault Woolen Mills opened for business, shipping its products all over the world.

As it blanketed the global marketplace, the factory wove itself into the community — until 2009, that is, when it literally stopped mid-stitch, gankrupted by poor management and a weak economy.?

"When they shut the doors here, I was devastated," said 31-year old Jenny Jones, who helped make blankets there for four years until the plant closed. "To drive by here and see this beautiful place closed, it was so hard for me.

"This place means so much; not just to me, but to the community." ?

The building sat untouched for nearly two years. If you snuck in, you'd see wool still sitting in bins. Blankets were left, half-made. ?

Over time, several interested parties toured the facility, but no buyers. Ultimately, a company operating out of Pakistan offered to buy the equipment. ?

Everything was labeled and tagged for shipment. Then something unbelievable happened. ?

Two men in this quiet community of 23,000 people decided to roll the entrepreneurial dice. ?

Cousins Chuck and Paul Mooty decided to buy it all, from the aging equipment to the formerly global brand.

"The only thing that worked in here were some of the lights," said Paul, a lawyer who ran another business for the better part of a decade before taking over the woolen mill. ?

Faribault Wooden Mill Company
Source: Faribault Wooden Mill Company
Faribault Wooden Mill Company

At first blush, it didn’t appear to be a very good idea.

"For the baseline story, I guess you could say it was stupidity," said Chuck, who was a retired executive at Dairy Queen.

Both men were successful, and neither needed the money, so why risk family money on a rusty old company that hadn’t registered a sale in two years?

"We were both ready for a new challenge," Chuck said. "It's about bringing jobs back. It's about bringing opportunities back to a number of people. And so it has that community piece.

"It also has that business piece of competition, of how do we take a neat nostalgic brand and hopefully try to create it to be relevant in today's world?"

Faribault Woolen Mills now has 35 employees, most of whom worked there before the company was shuttered in 2009.

"The only thing that worked in here were some of the lights." -co-owner, Faribault Woolen Mills, Paul Mooty

The Mooty cousins told CNBC that although they're not yet profitable, they are fully funded. In addition, they expect the number of employees to rise to 50 workers by year’s end and double that in 2012.

The impact has already been monumental for the community. ?

"When I got the call, I was excited. I was jumping around," said Jenny Jones, who had gone back to school to earn her teaching degree. She dropped that plan the moment an opening became available at the mill. "I love getting up every day coming in here. ?

"It’s great having a job again."

The Mooty family is banking on the Faribault Woolen Mills brand and its intrinsic value. It has a 145-year old history and has warmed an incredible range of people - from soldiers in World War I to passengers on airplanes.

Chuck and Paul also think the return of manufacturing jobs to the Minnesota community could be repeated in other parts of the country.

Faribault Wooden Mill Company
Source: Faribault Wooden Mill Company
Faribault Wooden Mill Company

"People are a little tired of hearing, `We can't do it,'" Paul said. "We can do it. We're going to do it here. And I think that message can hopefully carry over to other industries and get back to manufacturing here (in the U.S.)."

Chuck is less rah-rah when talking about possible manufacturing growth in the United States.

"We bring, hopefully, a competitive price and timeline that says, `You know what, I'm going to support domestic,'" said Mooty, who noted that fuel, labor and shipping costs are more expensive in emerging markets than they used to be. "We bring, hopefully, a competitive price and timeline that says, `You know what, I'm going to support domestic.'"

Supporting the job market is key to many of the 35 people working there, but it’s also a way of life.

Mary Boudreau, 76, worked at the mills for 50 years and came back when it re-opened.

"I'd like to see the place go again," she said as she worked with Jones to set a loom for a new rug pattern. "I started here in 1954, and here I am. "Still here." ?

And so is the Faribault Woolen Mill.



Find Brian on Twitter at @bshactman.

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