Originally created 05/07/02

Owner touts plant efficiency



A year after Augusta's King Mill textile plant closed under crushing debt, the company that bought it is operating at near peak efficiency, the owner said.

"We're running 24 hours a day, seven days a week," said Gary Heiman, the president and CEO of Standard Textile Co. Inc., who was in Augusta on Monday for the company's international sales and management meeting.

About 150 corporate officials and sales staff from the United States, Europe and Israel toured the mill. Today, they will tour Thomaston Mills, a Thomaston, Ga., plant Standard bought in late December.

Most of the King Mill machinery has been rebuilt for improved efficiency, and the work force has been streamlined from 304 to about 250, a product of Mr. Heiman's "focus factory concept" of low overhead.

Cincinnati-based Standard Textile bought the mill machinery for $4.1 million May 30 from a receiver appointed to dispose of the assets of Spartan International Inc., King Mill's parent company. Spartan closed mills in three states, including King Mill, on May 4.

Before it closed, Mr. Heiman said, King Mill was operating more machinery with less production and had more employees than needed.

"We have a plant manager. We have shift supervisors. We have an engineering manager. ... But we don't have vice presidents of this and vice presidents of that, so all that overhead went away," he said.

Rebuilding and improving the machinery increased efficiency percentages from the mid-60s to more than 95 percent, Mr. Heiman said.

"We invested a great deal in the mill," he said. "We've renovated or rebuilt virtually all the machinery and equipment, and thereby we've raised our efficiencies greatly and reduced waste greatly."

King Mill was running 14 spinning frames when Standard took over, and now Standard is running about eight, Mr. Heiman said. Fewer frames require fewer employees, he said.

Although some former employees say otherwise, Mr. Heiman said King Mill was losing lots of money before it closed.

"I'm not talking about a little money," he said. "This King Mill was losing lots of money."

Standard had to invest "unbelievably to bring it up to efficiency," he said. "They had let the company get rundown for so many years. They were cannibalizing machinery for spare parts."

On Monday, employee Theressa Elam, who has been at the mill for 30 years, said she is working harder with more stress since Standard Textile bought the plant.

"We've got different rules," she said.

She said still doesn't feel secure, even though she has her job back.

"After King Mill, you're never really secure," she said.

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or sylviaco@augustachronicle.com.