Done deal: Micolas Mills sold

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 29, 2003

Johnston Textiles assumes ownership of Opp textile mill

By Mary Reeves

It's a done deal.

Johnston Industries as the City of Opp knew it is no more, but Johnston Textiles, Inc. is up and running. At 3 p.m. Friday, about 150 people went back to work at Micolas Mills, their jobs restored and secure.

"It's going to be business as usual," said Lee Hanson of Meriturn Partners, the company that purchased the mill. "We closed the deal this afternoon. (Friday.)"

Meriturn Partners weren't the only deal-makers involved. The Johnston Industries management team felt so strongly about the potential success for the mill, they chipped in their own money, including CEO Gene Cone.

"It went well," said Cone in an exclusive interview withthe Star-News Friday afternoon. "Management invested along with Meriturn Partners, so we're a management and private equity firm - and we're excited. Basically we bought the assets of the old company and hired the people into the new company, Johnston Textile."

"The plan is to get back operating," said Hanson. "The employees started up again at 3 p.m. today and the goal is to build a profitable, successful textile business. We will evaluate expansion over time, but we want to make sure the business is performing well and we'll evaluate opportunities as they come about."

Cone agreed.

"The plans are to try and continue to grow," said Cone. "We have to be pragmatic about it and grow as our market grows."

Cone said economic recovery and getting the company out of bankruptcy would contribute to its success, but he also credited a loyal group of suppliers, customers and employees with its continued existence and future growth. Those loyalties also contributed to Meriturn's interest in the floundering company.

"What attracted us to the business were a unique set of products with competitive advantages, an extremely experienced management team, and loyal customers," said Hanson. "The labor pool has been phenomenally loyal during a very difficult time and they produce tremendous quality products."

Cone will retain his position as CEO of the new company, and Tommy Cooper will now be the vice president of manufacturing over all three plants - Micolas, Phenix City and Shawmut in Valley. Unlike Johnston Industries, which was based in Georgia, the new Johnston Textiles will be headquartered in Alabama, with the main offices in Phenix City. The website and e-mail addresses have already been changed to reflect the new ownership and name changes.

Johnston Industries, Inc. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on January 31, 2003 and has been restructuring and reorganizing the company since filing. In October, Meriturn signed a letter of intent to purchase the business.

During the reorganization process, the new management team rationalized product lines, reduced fixed and variable costs, improving quality and service, and renewed its focus on new product development with a focus on its strong positions in the technical and decorative textile markets.

The plans for future growth include new product development, said Cone.

"Over the last two years, more than 20 percent of sales are new products.

We've developed some exciting ones

- we just put a new product (bedspreads) into the Disneyworld Hotel."

The new lines include 100 percent spun polyester fabrics for napery and work wear markets, bedding and top of the bed products, fire retardant fabrics, upholstery fabrics, fabrics for use in rubber, automotive, and abrasive products, and Jacquard and dobby woven decorative fabrics.

Besides the three plants in Alabama,

the company also has sales, marketing and design centers in New York, and operates an ISO certified textile testing facility (TexTest) in Valley.

"We also have a new wall covering that will replace vinyl," said Cone. "That's being produced right in Opp, at Micolas.

Overall, more than 850 jobs have been saved through the deal, and Cone hopes to add more jobs soon.

"We've got a lot of brand new products, we expect to really grow through our innovation," he said. " I think what's exciting is we are really living the American Dream - hard work, ingenuity and faith in God will make you successful. This is a very faith-based company. You've heard the expression 'a family that prays together, stays together'? This is a company that prays together. Our strong faith has kept us going."