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By Jill Kemp
It started with a simple goal: Finger Lakes Textiles (FLT) wanted to get people back to work. The knitting factory came up with an idea that would employ workers and expand business operations beyond the millions of hats it creates each year. The answer was face masks.
For more than 25 years, FLT has produced winter hats worn by those in the U.S. Armed Forces. Then, in 2018, the Arctic Gear brand was created, in order to sell the winter headwear on the consumer market. The factory also offers contract sewing services.
FLT applied for and received a $15,000 grant from FuzeHub to create washable masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19. When it received the FuzeHub Solutions Program Grant, FLT, a division of Mozaic, purchased five new industrial sewing machines.
This grant was a natural fit as FuzeHub is the statewide center for the New York Manufacturing Extension Partnership (NY MEP). It helps organizations improve productivity and increase manufacturing competitiveness. Only those companies who are already working with FuzeHub are able to apply for the Solutions Grant.
Companies who are new to FuzeHub, however, can apply for other funding through a regional MEP center. In the Rochester area, it is NextCorps. In addition, there is also the FuzeHub Build4Scale program that helps startups and other small manufacturers to understand how to move a product from concept to commercialization.
FLT shifted its focus from hats to produce a high-grade, non-woven, three-layered polyester mask.
“Our team did some research, prepared some samples and sent out bid requests,” says Ashley Burke, vice president for clinical and business operations at Mozaic. “We were able to get five industrial sewing machines with the grant and with the new machines, we were able to welcome back 30 direct support professionals, who were very appreciative for the work.”
Everton Henriques, NY MEP solutions director for FuzeHub, says Finger Lakes Textiles had a remarkable story even before the COVID-19 crisis.
“As an inclusive workplace, they provide rewarding employment opportunities for people with disabilities,” Henriques says.
Through its regular operations, FLT trains individuals and works with them to guarantee success.
All FLT profits fund residential programs and mental health services for people with disabilities. Deemed an essential business because of its work for the Department of Defense, FLT has implemented enhanced health and safety procedures to keep employees safe.
To date, FLT has made more than made 45,000 masks, many of them for client orders. Masks are also available for sale to individuals on its website at arcticgear.org.