Auction to pay back state; Equipment sale aims to recoup $750,000 for reviving 2 local plants; Development


Less than three years after a clothing manufacturer moved into two former Jos. A. Bank Clothiers plants with help from $1 million in public subsidies, the equipment in the factories will be auctioned off.

The state is hoping to recover as much as it can of its $750,000 investment with one auction today at a plant on Brookhill Road in Northwest Baltimore and another March 7 at a North Avenue plant.

"This is the cut-and-sew industry, which is not a growing, emerging technology here in America," said Hans Mayer, executive director of the Maryland Economic Development Corp. "What we will get on the sale, I don't know."

SourceOne Manufacturing Services LLC, a subsidiary of Pietrafesa Corp. of Liverpool, N.Y., said in October that it would close the two plants this month.

The company found it difficult to find and keep skilled workers. It also said it would move the roughly 300 jobs to other plants, including one in upstate New York.

Pietrafesa, founded in 1922, manufactures clothing for various brands and many department stores' private-label lines, including Brooks Brothers, Dillards, Jos. A. Bank, Nordstrom and Sam's Club.

The company entered into lease agreements with private owners of both buildings in April 1998, Mayer said. Baltimore Development Corp., a city agency, gave the company two loans totaling $300,000 for worker training and general operations.

As part of SourceOne's deal to move into the plants -- a cutting room on Brookhill Road and a sewing plant on North Avenue -- the state agreed to buy Jos. A. Bank's equipment, plus some new machines.

In all the state spent $540,000 on the used equipment and $210,000 on the new equipment, all of which was leased to SourceOne.

At the time, SourceOne said it would modernize the sewing plant and add more workers to the 300 who worked there. The goal was to keep jobs that paid between about $8 and $12 an hour, plus pension and health benefits.

Some of the equipment for sale today have obscure names, such as a "1995 Gerber S93-7 high-ply automatic cutting system with C-100A controller."

Others for sale are fusing machines, auto spreaders and a fan folder, all of which did the basic job of making clothes.

The clothing industry for much of the past century had a large presence in Baltimore.

"In the 1920s, it employed one quarter of all industrial workers in the city of Baltimore, more than twice the next sector of the economy," said Dennis Zembala, executive director of the Baltimore Museum of Industry.

"The chances we've had to capture some of the offshore garment industry by using high-tech methods are slowly slipping away."

He said clothing industries in other countries are investing in technology and also have lower labor costs than in the United States.

The abandonment of the two plants by SourceOne is the latest indication of the clothing industry's decline in Baltimore.

One of the biggest came in 1997, when London Fog Industries Inc., which had manufactured raincoats in Baltimore for decades, closed its facility in Park Heights.

Mayer said the auction had generated "a significant response from people expressing interest and providing credentials so they can bid."

Included in that group are a couple of local tailors, a couple of large companies and some small shops searching for a couple of pieces. "I'm not sure how it's going to parcel out," he said.

"No one is saying, 'Hey, I'll buy everything at Brookhill.' "

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