On March 10, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey announced that BELLA+CANVAS plans to open an “advanced fabric-cutting facility” in Wetumpka that’s expected to create over 550 jobs.
The Los Angeles, California-based apparel manufacturer intends to invest $11.9 million to establish the operation in a portion of an 890,000-square-foot building. The building has been vacant since 2013 when Russell Brands left the city.
The company’s Los Angeles cutting facility employs over 1,000 people, featuring proprietary software and specialized cutting tables. The Wetumpka facility is expected to be modeled after this operation.
To learn more about the project, we chatted with BELLA+CANVAS’ COO Norm Hullinger.
What are the plans for the Alabama facility?
NH: Our new Alabama cutting facility will be slightly larger than our current Commerce [California] facility – and therefore surpass that facility and become the largest apparel cutting facility in the United States. We will have the capability to cut panels for our entire assortment of product: crew neck tees, long-sleeve tees, fashion product, and fleece.
How does this new facility meet the needs of those plans?
NH: The new facility is in a formal textile facility that is extremely well-suited to our needs. The surrounding community has a long history of supporting the textile/apparel industry, and we’re excited about creating a variety of career opportunities for those in the area. We are very proud to be making this significant investment in Alabama as we continue to grow our manufacturing footprint in the U.S.
It has to take many moving parts to get a fabric-cutting facility up and running – where are you in the process, and what’s at the top of your to-do list right now?
NH: Many moving parts, indeed! We are currently completing the building remodeling phase and are setting up the cutting tables and automated laser-guided cutting machines. We are also installing the automated spreaders that properly “lay out” and relax the fabric prior to cutting.
When do you expect the space to be fully operational?
NH: We will begin operations in early May and be fully operational by October of this year.
And how will this expansion strengthen and affect B+C’s overall footprint and production?
NH: This new facility, very similar but slightly larger than our current facility in Commerce, California, will allow us to meet the needs of our current and expanding customer base. By doubling our cutting capabilities, we can ensure we will maintain our position as the leading supplier of premium T-shirts and fleece to the imprintable sportswear and retail spaces.
According to Governor Ivey, the 557 jobs being created at the new facility include spreaders, general cutting laborers, forklift operators, shipping and receiving clerks, and administrative staff. The average annual wages for the new positions are $46,000.
The state’s primary workforce development agency AIDT will assist BELLA+CANVAS with pre-employment and job training services.
In 2020, Wisconsin-based real estate firm Phoenix Investors announced that an affiliate acquired the former Russell Brands building. BELLA+CANVAS is leasing a portion of the building at 3145 Elmore Road from the firm.