Popular history holds the 20th-century decline of the textile industry responsible for many of the economic ills plaguing Rhode Island and Massachusetts’ SouthCoast.
What it doesn’t account for is the continuing, and growing, contribution companies born from textiles are now making to a diversified and innovation-based manufacturing economy in the region.
One of those old textile companies is Pawtucket’s Cooley Group, which first opened its doors in 1926 to make cotton cloth awnings for shops and storefronts.
From its earliest years, Cooley has been focused on innovating, first in awnings and then into engineered membranes and markets where the company’s technical experience provided an advantage in products such as billboards, reservoir covers, chemical tanks, roofing and oil-containment booms.
This spring Cooley announced plans to double its American manufacturing capacity, which will mean equipment investment and new hiring at both the Pawtucket headquarters and a newer plant in Lancaster, S.C.
“Now everyone talks about being innovative, but I have never been to a company where innovation is completely ingrained like Cooley,” said President Dan Dwight, who was named to the company’s top job last summer. “From marketing and sales guys to the mad chemists in our state-of-the-art R&D center in Cranston, to the factory floor – there is a tremendous amount of science and art.”
Cooley is not alone among innovative, local textile companies.
In Cumberland, 129-year-old manufacturer Hope Global has started hiring after the recession thanks in part to increased exports of products such as high-strength boot laces.
In addition to laces and braided materials, Hope Global’s products now include knitted wire for automotive parts, bullet-proof curtains for firing ranges and window weather stripping.