Demopolis New Era plant stands to gain hours, more work days

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 24, 2004

What’s unfortunate for one city may be good for the other. In this case, Demopolis is the “other.”

Friday, New Era Cap Co. announced it would merge two manufacturing facilities in New York. The company, founded in 1920 in Buffalo, will close its Buffalo plant and transfer operations to its Debry, N.Y., plant.

For Demopolis, the announcement could mean a steadier workflow and a return to consistent 5-day work weeks.

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“That’s something that we hope will happen,” said John DeWaal, vice president at New Era’s corporate office. “We’re going to shift the work to all of our plants, and we think this will balance out some of that work.”

Over the past year, New Era — like most manufacturing companies in North America — has struggled with cheaper labor forces in other countries. DeWaal also said a shift in the cap market has forced New Era to change its market strategy.

“Overall, it’s been a pretty good year for us as a company,” DeWaal said. “But the market has changed to a more simple approach, which has affected us.”

That “simple approach” is defined by the styles found on hats. Along with a trend back toward “trucker” hats — or mesh hats — DeWaal also said the once-popular look of extravagant logos has dissipated.

“The logos are getting back to single letters, and things like that,” he said.

In October, when the New York Yankees lost the World Series, Alvin Williams — manager of the Demopolis New Era plant — said the hat industry would suffer. That prediction proved true.

Since the last quarter of 2003, the Demopolis plant has operated on staggered weeks, DeWaal said.

“They’ve worked three weeks on, and one week off,” he said. “They’ve also worked 4-day weeks.”

With the merger of the two New York facilities, DeWaal said the company is hopeful to return to four weeks on and 5-day work weeks in Demopolis.

As for the New York merger, company president Pete Augustine said physical and market conditions forced the move.

“The age of [the Buffalo] facility and our excess capacity are forcing us towards this consolidation,” Augustine said. “It is imperative that we find ways to make ourselves more operationally sound and competitive given that the vast majority of headwear companies do not operate manufacturing facilities in the United States.”

Because New York is a strong union state, company officials have not resolved the number of employees who will lose jobs from the consolidation.

New Era, which still has six years remaining on its contract with Major League Baseball, also has licenses with the NBA, NHL, college bowl games and the national championship, and Little League.

Along with the Demopolis and Derby plants, New Era also operates a facility in Jackson, Ala., and Mobile.