Massachusetts textile plant that made news after 1995 fire to close operations, move out

LAWRENCE, Mass. – The current owner of a Massachusetts textile factory that made national news 20 years ago when the former owner continued paying workers after a catastrophic fire has announced it is moving manufacturing out of state.

The announcement Thursday by Polartec LLC came one day before the 20th anniversary of the blaze that destroyed the Lawrence company, then called Malden Mills.

Polartec said it would move manufacturing jobs to plants in New Hampshire and Tennessee. The company plans to keep headquarters and research and development in Lawrence.

“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 a statement. “In its most productive year, the company has only been able to use 25 per cent of its Lawrence facility.”

About 200 full-time workers and 100 seasonal part-timers are expected to lose their jobs, according to union officials.

Former CEO Aaron Feuerstein, now 89, was hailed as a hero when he continued paying workers as he rebuilt after the 1995 fire. He called the decision a “disgrace.”

“I think it stinks, it just stinks,” he told The Eagle-Tribune.

“All those jobs are lost, after we dedicated ourselves to keeping them,” he told The Boston Globe.

Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera said company officials told him just weeks ago that there were no plans to close the facility and he feels he was lied to.

“It kind of feels like the fire all over again to us,” he said.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker praised Feuerstein’s treatment of workers after the fire.

“Aaron Feuerstein is a great man who I think all of us believe did something that surprised a lot of people when he had that horrible fire there at his company 20 years ago,” Baker said.

Baker also said Massachusetts needs to do more to help keep and attract manufacturing jobs, including lowering the cost of energy.

The company took on $140 million in debt to rebuild after the 1995 fire, leading to three bankruptcies. In 2007, Versa Capital Management bought it and changed its name to Polartec.

Polartec designs and manufactures outdoor and cold weather fabrics for prominent clothing companies, including Patagonia, L.L. Bean and The North Face.