Gov. Kay Ivey took a tour of Cullman’s HomTex plant on Wednesday. The company, which began in 1987 as a small, contract sewing operation, is now the largest textile manufacturer in the United States, and is poised to become the largest in North America when its Selma plant begins production in a few months.
“I just want to say congratulations to all of you for making this a success in this neck of the woods in Alabama,” said Ivey. “This is an impressive machine and great product.”
Founder and President Jerry Wootten took Ivey on the tour of the Cullman plant, one of four the company now operates, showing her the mask and bed sheet production. The manufacturer of DreamFit sheets, HomTex sells directly to furniture and mattress stores as well as national retail chains, specialty stores, gift stores and E-commerce.
In 2020, the company pivoted from bed sheets to making masks during the pandemic, making an initial $5 million investment in producing disposable masks. They are now one of only a handful of plants that manufacture all levels of masks approved by the Food and Drug Administration, said Vice President Jeremy Wootten. HomTex supplies all the masks for the United States Capitol complex and also has contracts with hospitals and medical facilities.
In order to switch production over to masks, the company needed a $1.5 loan to purchase equipment. The city and county, through the economic development boards, provided the loan, which the company paid back in less than two months. Mayor Woody Jacobs noted that some people were critical of the company receiving the loan, but that it has paid off in the long run.
“This equipment that we’re seeing would have been somewhere else in the United States and we wouldn’t have the jobs in Cullman,” he said. “It is unbelievable to see those machines here, and this rack of masks going to Costco, this rack is going to U.S. mail services, all made in the U.S.A.”
In November 2020, Ivey awarded the company $10,572,100 in Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) funds to expand operations to Selma to develop Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). The Selma plant will employ approximately 300-325 people. Currently, the company employs 240 people in Cullman and has 450 employees company-wide.
In a partnership with the state of Alabama and Wallace Community College in Selma, HomTex will produce General Purpose and FDA approved Level 1, 2 and 3 Surgical Masks and N95 masks. Wallace State Community College will offer apprenticeship programs that will allow students to help make masks for their region and beyond.
Several local leaders joined Ivey in touring the Cullman operations on Wednesday.
“Having the governor come to Cullman for a hometown business in amazing,” said Cullman County Chairman Jeff Clemons. “It’s amazing all that they do here with the masks and all the bedding material. It’s always big to have a business like this in Cullman County. We’re so thankful that we have such vision here and great leaders all across Cullman County.”
Ivey noted the company’s status as a “homegrown” business that has gone global. “It’s a world leader in making textiles and now into PPE masks, and it’s doing great work and providing employment for our people, and that’s what we want to do because Alabama’s open for business,” she said.