FALL RIVER — The 100 or so stitchers and packagers at Merrow Manufacturing on Bedford Street never skipped a beat of their work creating high-end textiles for well-known clothing companies and the military despite the arrival of local and state officials for the announcement of a $225,000 training grant award to the Bristol Workforce Investment Board on Thursday.
The grant awarded through the Massachusetts Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund will create a new training program for positions as sewing machine operators and stitchers and to serve people who have not been employed or have been underemployed for at least three years.
The three cycles of training will serve about 30 people and will include wraparound services in addition to the intensive and free training.
BWIB Executive Director Tom Perreira, who applied for the grant, said he was committed to creating the program after speaking with local textile manufacturing owners whose growth has been stymied because of the lack of candidates with the required skill sets.
That workforce was once so prevalent in the city that was built on the textile industry.
The need for skilled sewing machine operators and stitchers is real. In the case of Merrow, they’ve hired 21 people in the past three weeks and according to a news release they currently have 40 job openings that are available immediately.
At the press conference, co-owner Charlie Merrow said the new training program will help build a product that he called “the best product in the country.”
“The opportunity we have in Fall River to create jobs around technical soft goods is enormous. We could hire several hundred people with the right skill sets right away if they were available,” Merrow said. “Why this job program is so important to this city and to us as a company is that without it this business would go somewhere else.”
Pointing to his employees, who had not stopped their tasks to listen to the speeches being given behind them, Merrow said the need to continue to work “is because we can’t keep up with the demand because we’re the best in the country.”
Brother and partner Owen Merrow said that his company has been hand-building sewing machines since 1838 and moved to Fall River because the textile heritage is so significant.
The company expanded to sewing garments about a year ago.
“The reason that we can do this is that skill that is out on that floor is amazing. So to be able to encourage and bring back and reimagining the idea of apparel coming back to the U.S. is really exciting,” he said.
Mayor Jasiel Correia II said the grant money was important to the future of Fall River and that in 10 years he sees a huge surge in made in America products in Fall River.
Speaking to a group of women who are possible candidates for the training program, state Sen. Michael Rodrigues, with hand to his ear listening to the hum of sewing machines, said, “Someday, soon hopefully, you’ll be operating those machines as my mom did.”
Anyone interested in learning more about the sewing and stitching training program can contact Joanna Mateus of the Bristol Workforce Investment Board at 508-675-1165 or firstname.lastname@example.org