First published by The Wetumpka Herald

Portions of a Wetumpka building vacant since 2013 will see life again.

Gov. Kay Ivey announced Thursday Los Angeles-based BELLA+CANVAS will invest $11.9 million to establish an operation in a building once operated by Russell Corp.

“The decision by BELLA+CANVAS to locate its high-tech cutting facility in Wetumpka is welcome news for Elmore County and for Alabama,” Ivey said in a statement. “Not only will the company’s growth project spark the creation of a significant number of jobs, but it also underscores how Alabama is ready and eager to play a role in America’s manufacturing renaissance.”

Elmore County Economic Development Authority director Cary Cox said BELLA+CANVAS, a fast-growing apparel manufacturer with a “Made in the U.S.A” focus.

“It’s always exciting when a company chooses to put down roots here,” Cox said. “They had opportunities to go elsewhere. It’s satisfying when so many entities in Elmore County came together to put this together.”

BELLA+CANVAS president Chris Blakeslee said in a statement the company produces clothing for the retail and wholesale markets, while also offering clothing design and manufacturing services. The company is known for its domestic manufacturing mission, the development of innovative new fabrics, and its sustainability practices.

“We are thrilled to be part of the community and look forward to creating jobs and opportunities for many in Alabama,” Blakeslee said. “After a comprehensive search, we ultimately concluded that our new location in Wetumpka was not only optimal to enhance our manufacturing footprint and technologically advanced operations levels, but also ideal in terms of support from the local government and access to great new team members.”

Elmore County is home to many former textile industry employees. Frontier Spinning Mills opened in Wetumpka in 2001. The plant closed in 2019 and 148 employees lost jobs as the company consolidated operations to Carolina. Frontier had just two years earlier invested more than $6 million to expand its operations in Elmore County.

Cox said the workforce in Elmore County is one reason why BELLA+CANVAS chose to locate an operation in Elmore County adding to its more than 1,000 people at a Los Angeles cutting facility it calls North America’s most advanced, thanks to proprietary software and cutting tables that enable the cutting of about three million garments per week. The Wetumpka facility is expected to be modeled after this operation.

“We have a lot of textile experience in Elmore County,” Cox said. “There will be no spinning here. This is not a traditional textile operation. They will be doing high technology cutting.”

Cox said the company is already hiring and will be in operation mid to late summer.

The 557 jobs being created at the new Alabama facility include spreaders, general cutting laborers, forklift operators, shipping and receiving clerks, and administrative staff. Average annual wages for the new positions are $46,000.

“Alabama’s manufacturing sector provides an ideal home for technologically advanced operations like the one planned by BELLA+CANVAS in Wetumpka,” secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce Greg Canfield said in a statement. “This is a state-of-the-art facility, designed to be highly efficient with precise processes, and I know our capable workforce will help make it successful.”

AIDT, the state’s primary workforce development agency, will assist BELLA+CANVAS with pre-employment and job training services.

Thanks to significant job creation, BELLA+CANVAS’ project is expected to have a massive economic impact in the Wetumpka area of central Alabama.

“We are excited to welcome BELLA+CANVAS to Elmore County,” Elmore County Commission chairman Troy Stubbs said. “In addition to the boost our local economy will receive from the infusion of jobs, we are proud to be part of the efforts of Phoenix Investors and BELLA+CANVAS to restore manufacturing jobs to the United States.”

BELLA+CANVAS will use a portion of an 890,000-square-foot building just west of Wetumpka on Highway 14.

BELLA+CANVAS is leasing the building from Wisconsin-based Phoenix Investors, a national private real estate firm. Phoenix announced that an affiliate had acquired the former Russell Brands building in 2020. BELLA+CANVAS will occupy about one-third of the building.