HOPEDALE - The residents of this "mill town" awoke this morning to the news that the Rockwell-Draper
Division plant will cease operations within the next 10 to 15 months. The impact on the town, the area and
the region, particularly for those who will be among the ranks of the unemployed is tremendous, according
to selectmen, who held a news conference last night in Town Hall.
The firm presently employs 600, and at one time had 3,000 workers. Representatives of Senator Edward
Brooke and Senator Edward Kennedy met in Worcester yesterday with officials of Rockwell, as did a
representative of Congressman Joseph Early. Howard Smith of the Office of Manpower Affairs was
contacted regarding the situation and all federal and state officials have advised Hopedale officials and
Rockwell officials that everything possible will be done to east the impact of the closing of the plant.
Rockwell obtained the local loom manufacturing facility and associated land and holdings from Draper
Corporation in the late 1960s. Founded by the Draper families, the factory and business, were benefactors
of the residents. If one worked in Drapers, then one was assured of a home at a minimum charge for rent
and with maintenance provided by the firm. The scene began to change in 1955 when Draper Corporation
sold the homes occupied by its workers. This move was followed by a large number of layoffs and the
subsequent purchase of the business by Rockwell interests. A steady change in the way of life of
townspeople has steadily been evidenced since that time. The employment statistics at the plant found
more than 3,000 employees listed at one point, with three shifts and workers brought here by bus from as
far away as New Bedford.
Selectmen met with Rockwell officials yesterday and heard the news release to the future closing of the
plant. The news conference was scheduled for 7 p.m. yesterday by the board which issued a prepared
statement on the matter. John Hayes, chairman of the Board of Selectmen stated that Rockwell had
experienced a declining business where loom orders were concerned. In 1974, the firm had orders for
over 10,000 looms. In 1978, this figure dropped to 1,000 looms and for the firms fiscal 1979, the orders are
lower than 1,000.
The local plant has been engaged recently in making parts to maintain and keep looms it previously
manufactured in running condition. The works will be consolidated in Spartanburg, eliminating
transportation costs between Hopedale and Spartanburg. Hayes also cited the fact that OSHA
requirements and federal and state noise pollution standards in some areas make it impossible to use
(and subsequently sell) the fly shuttle loom which Drapers is noted for. Hayes stated in short, "They
(Rockwell) cannot support the facility here." Hayes further stated that the board had received no indication
of the firm's plans for phasing out the local plant.
Hayes stated that the reason for calling last night's news conference was two-fold. First, the company
and affected union personnel held a meeting about the closing yesterday afternoon. Hayes stated, "Word of
the impending closing would be out before the press releases and this board felt responsible to the
townspeople to let them know that federal officials had been contacted for future assistance." The second
reason cited by Hayes for calling the conference was to advise the people of the town that the board was
given the courtesy of being advised by Rockwell officials of the upcoming closing.
Hayes stated that from time to time meetings had been held between Rockwell officials and town officials
to keep the local group apprised of the firm's status. Hayes noted that the board held a meeting with
Thomas Hopkins about a month ago and had discussed at that time the sewer situation, the best use of
the land owned by Rockwell and placed on the market for sale over the past year. Hayes stated that the
board received no indication at that time of the closing of the plant, although Hopkins did not paint a pretty
picture of conditions at that time.
Selectman Barrows stated that the board had asked if there were any possibility that the existing plant
here could be used by another division of Rockwell, but from all indications such a move would not be
Hopkins, according to selectmen, has indicated that Sam Brown will be assigned to work with the local
Board of Selectmen, Industrial Development Commission and others concerned with locating new industry
here. Brown worked with the local officials for about three years, while an official at the local plant on
various matters and the board has often stated that it has been privileged to have established good rapport
Hayes stated that the IDC is the key to attracting business to Hopedale and that he would like to see
other boards, such as the Planning Board become involved in reviewing and suggesting what is the best
method to improve the industrial structure of the town.The firm still owns an estimated 800 to 1,000 acres
of land in this town which is on the market. In addition, it owns land in Mendon, Milford and Upton. Hayes
stressed the fact that although the impact on the community is "not good," the firm holds a large piece of
real estate here with the plant which is located in the area bordered by Hopedale, Freedom, and Hope
Streets, as well as the West Foundry, located on Fitzgerald Drive.
Hayes further stated that although the impact of the closing of the plant will be greatly felt, personnel has
been reduced at various stages bringing it down to the estimated 600 workers presently employed. Hayes
stated that it is easier to absorb 600 workers into the work market than it would be to absorb the 3,000 who
were employed here at one time. Another area which would be affected is future employment which would
no longer exist with the closing of the plant. Because of this, the board's concern is primarily with long
range matters, Hayes stated, "we cannot enjoy the luxury of keeping a big building like that empty." Hayes
was reluctant to say anything about the effect of the closing on the real estate tax, noting that Rockwell is a
big business and it will still own the plant and facilities even though it is closed. Tax matters of this nature
are the business of the board of Assessors. Hayes, in answer to a question, stated that the board had not
been contacted, nor had it contacted union officials at the local plant relative to the planned closing
announcement. Milford Daily News, August 25, 1978
The Hopedale plant of Draper Division, Rockwell International, was closed two years later, August 1980.
Why The Draper Loom Didn't Sell
By Joseph M. Grillo
HOPEDALE - The Draper Division of Rockwell International did not die yesterday. It died a long time ago.
The "official" word from Rockwell "officials" is, of course, a guarded statement. Multi-million dollar
corporations like Rockwell do not admit mistakes or mismanagement. Companies like Rockwell always
attribute a plant closing to "current economic conditions." That always sounds better. Why rock the boat?
Many of the current workers as the plant, and retired employees, know differently. In the early and middle
part of the 20th century, Draper looms had captured the world market. The red "Diamond D" could be found
on a piece of machinery in every major clothing manufacturing plant in the United States.; The Draper
family prided itself on keeping pace with the most up-to-date technology. The secret to Draper's solid pace
in the world market was research; the company improved its product, began an impressive service
network, and backed up its machinery with dependable replacement parts.
Clothing manufacturers are good businessmen. They know that the key to making profit is good
equipment. The Draper loom performed. It worked hour after hour and was put together with skilled hands.
But along the way, something happened.
You won't find this out at a Rockwell press conference, and the Board of Selectmen can't tell you about it.
Managers and foremen who worked at the plant for most of their lives know what happened.The Draper
loom no longer made the grade. It broke down. The machine was not dependable.
Most insiders agree that the critical period for the Draper loom was in the mid and late 1960s. Four
factors seemed to contribute to decline in business:· Looms were allowed to leave Hopedale unfinished. ·
Research, once the pride of Draper, was cut back, putting the loom behind in the latest technology. ·
Competition arrived on the scene from Switzerland. · New looms on the market were not only more
dependable, but they were cheaper. Let's take a look at these factors one by one.
The charge that looms left the plant incomplete is no joking matter. The employees knew it. Management
knew it. But still, for some unexplained reason, the looms were shipped out. It didn't take long for the mills
to get outraged. More than one Draper loom sat idle in a plant because it simply would not work.
Research was also allowed to lag behind the rest of the manufacturing world. This fact is reflected in
early layoffs from the important research department. Draper was not keeping up with the times. Their
loom was noisy. Federal guidelines were passed, affecting the noise regulations in factories. Mills bought
the loom that was quiet and passed OSHA regulations. Competition can kill any business. As technology
spread in Europe, the Swiss decided to go into the loom building business. Their machinery began to
appear at textile machinery shows around the world.
Textile mills made logical decisions. The looms built in Switzerland worked better. They were quieter. And
most importantly, they were cheaper. Why buy a loom from Draper?
Because a number of reasons (some directly connected to poor management) the Draper loom was no
longer the pride of the market. Rockwell had the financial resources to capture the world market, but the
damage had already been done. Too many Draper looms were running poorly. Key personnel at the
Rockwell plant (many of them now retired or laid off) realize why the business went bad.
Two years ago the Milford Daily News in an exclusive story said the Draper plant was on the way out.
Layoffs were increasing and the situation seemed clear. Management vehemently denied this was so, and
castigated the Daily News for its stories at that time.
You can have millions and millions of dollars and all the executives in the world, but when your product is
not up to par, there is no way to compete and survive. Milford Daily News, August 25, 1978.
Decline of a Technological Leader - A study of the Draper Corporation by William Maas.
Strategy at the Draper Company, 1816 - 1930.- Also by William Maas.
Last Worker Leaves Draper Menu HOME
|Textile Machinery Firm To Close After 137 Years
It's All Over For Hopedale Draper Plant
600 Workers To Lose Jobs in 10-15 Months
By Virginia R. Cyr