Governor tips his cap to New Era

Published 5:58 pm Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Gov. Bob Riley paid an impromptu visit to the New Era baseball cap plant in Demopolis yesterday, and got an education as to how the caps were made and how far-reaching the product is.

A visit to New York got the governor interested in visiting the Demopolis plant, having spoken with New Era company chief executive officer Chris Koch about baseball caps and how so many Major League caps are made in Demopolis.

“I hate to admit it, but I didn’t realize that New Era was as active in Alabama as they were,” Riley said. “We started talking about what they produced and how they produced it, where they went, and all of a sudden, I started finding out a little more about caps.”

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Riley took a tour of the Demopolis plant, going to each station and watching the workers put caps together step by step. He talked with some of the workers about their jobs and saw how each station played a vital part in the construction of a baseball cap.

“New Era is the best in the world,” Riley said. “It has a reputation that really has no competitor. I told (Koch) that the next time you come, I would really like to see how it’s done. He was telling me how they used lasers, and I said, ‘But it’s a cap.’

“After going through there and seeing the level of quality that they have, I am just absolutely, amazingly impressed. And, the quality that they demand — at the last station we went to, they said they had about 1 percent rejects. I couldn’t find anything wrong with them. They looked perfectly fine to me.”

Riley said that New Era is a good example of how far-reaching Alabama industries have become.

“Alabama has gotten to the point today that we’ve developed this reputation for quality,” he said, “whether it’s in automobiles, aerospace or in textile manufacturing. This really is state of the art, and it’s just so great to see someone come in and take a plant that had been closed and come back and not only make it profitable, but produce some of the best products made anywhere in the world.”

The visit was a source of pride for the New Era employees and plant manager Ken Upshaw.

“It was a great visit,” Upshaw said. “Just a great, friendly visit.”

Upshaw said the Demopolis New Era plant was the largest producer of company’s three plants, turning out 78,000 caps each week.

“We make caps for Major League Baseball, the minor leagues, we even do some custom caps,” he said. “We do some designer caps, hiphop caps, all kinds of customized colors, but our No. 1 customer is Major League Baseball.”

New Era employs 390 people and is marking its 10th anniversary of operation in Demopolis.

“We’ve been working six days a week for the last six months,” Upshaw said. “Usually, the playoff season is our busy season, but this year, it’s been all summer.”

Gov. Riley left, telling the employees of New Era that when he and his wife watch the World Series, he would be paying a lot more attention to the caps the players wear, knowing they came from his home state.