PORTLAND — With expansion and growth on the horizon, American Roots, an apparel company based on Westfield Street, is about to move to the Dana Warp Mill in Westbrook.
American Roots co-founder Ben Waxman said the 14,000-square-foot space in the Bridge Street mill could, in time, accommodate 60 employees. The company, launched in 2015, is partnering with Westbrook on a 12-week workforce training program for up to 10 new employees.
The Westbrook City Council Monday gave preliminary approval for the city to fund $74,000, about 66 percent, of the cost of the training program. If given final approval June 4, the funding will come from existing tax increment financing. City Administrator Jerre Bryant said workforce training is an approved use of the tax increment financing funds.
Westbrook Economic Development Director Daniel Stevenson said the program is a “win-win” situation for both American Roots and the city.
“This is a significant investment in our business community that will pay dividends in return,” he said.
“It’s an incredible investment by the city. We are incredibly grateful,” Waxman said. “We intend to put this money to good use for the community. The single greatest investment a city, or the state, can make is in job training. With an aging workforce in Maine, we have to invest in the next generation of workers.”
At a workshop session on the topic before the May 21 council meeting, Waxman told councilors the partnership with the city will help the company grow faster than it could on its own.
Since launching in 2015, the company, which makes fleece and cotton jackets, sweatshirts, winter hats, vests, scarves and blankets, has grown from four employees to a projected 30 employees by year’s end. In that time, the company’s sales have increased from $400,000 to an anticipated $1.6 million to $1.8 million in 2018, Waxman said.
By partnering with the city and creating and growing a skilled workforce, Waxman said he hopes American Roots can reduce its wait time for products from eight to 12 weeks to a month.
Stevenson said American Roots, is “the poster child” for the city’s pilot workforce training program.
“They are moving to Westbrook. They are expanding and everything they source is American-made,” he said.
Waxman said he just signed a lease for the Dana Warp Mill space and will be in the new location by June 4.
“We are excited to be in Westbrook,” said Waxman, who bought a house in the city with his wife and business partner Whitney Reynolds in 2014. “The idea American Roots can be a part of Westbrook and help move the community forward, I can’t emphasis how excited we are to be a part of that.”
Waxman said he is happy to be able to bring manufacturing back to the former mill, which manufactured textiles from 1881 to 1958.
American Roots will be located near a space where Waxman’s mother, Dory Waxman, owner of Old Port Wool and Textile, operates a stitching apprenticeship program.
Through her help, American Roots already has developed a training program with Coastal Enterprises Inc., Southern Maine Community College, Goodwill Industries and Portland Adult Education, but Stevenson said that since “training can be expensive,” the company asked the city for financial assistance in expanding that program. Waxman said the company will continue partnering with those organizations for workforce training as well.
“One hurdle we had right up front is how do we find a workforce because there are not many people who sew anymore, so we knew we had to train our workforce,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds said the company’s partnerships have been “absolutely essential” for American Roots.
“I don’t think we’d be where we are without them. in fact, I know we wouldn’t,” she said.
The trainees, once they get through the training program and if hired by the company, will be eligible for the company’s benefits package, which Waxman said includes a “livable wage,” unlimited paid sick leave, a 401K, profit sharing, quarterly bonus and paid vacation.
Council President Brendan Rielly said he “is a big fan” of workforce training and was happy to support the program.
“We have (seen their) track record. We know what they have done, so this is about as safe an investment as we can make,” he said.
Councilor Victor Chau said he “was really excited to have this product line headed to Westbrook.”
Whitney Reynolds, left, and her husband Ben Waxman, with son Arlo in 2015, are moving American Roots apparel from Portland to the Dana Warp Mill in Westbrook, where the business is partnering with the city to start a workforce training program.
American Roots, a Portland-based apparel company, will move to a 14,000-square-foot space in Westbrook’s Dana Warp mill next month.