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 feasible.
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 with Brown.
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,
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.
Developing and Utilizing Technological Leadership, Industrial Research, Vertical Integration
and Business Strategy at the Draper Company, 1816 - 1930.- Also by William Maas.
Last Worker Leaves Draper Menu
Demolition at the Draper Plant, 2020 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