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Increasing inclusivity: Seneca County textile facility expands
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Increasing inclusivity: Seneca County textile facility expands

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WATERLOO — Employees and administrators of the Finger Lakes Textiles manufacturing facility unveiled the building’s new expansions on a sunny September afternoon.

But Allen Connely recalled during his speech that it wasn’t so nice outside when ground was broken on the project last November.

“I see a lot of faces out there that I've seen for several years now, and it's really great to see that you're in sunglasses on a day like today,” he said.

Connely, the executive director of the Arc of Seneca Cayuga, kicked off the ribbon-cutting event on Sept. 18. His remarks were followed by tours of the textile facility's new expansions. Operated by the Arc, the manufacturer employs people of all abilities to make garments for the military and winter hats for its commercial line, Arctic Gear.

State Sen. Pam Helming also spoke to the crowd about her support for the expansion, and recalled one of her former jobs at a nonprofit helping people with disabilities find work.

“Look how far we’ve come, and how wonderful it is that we have this integrated workforce here and the fantastic job they do,” Helming said.

The expansion — which includes a large storage-like space and an area for manufacturing the winter hats — was funded by a grant from the the New York State Industry for the Disabled and contributions from several other sources that Connely thanked during his speech.

“All of you played a part in what we’re doing today,” he said to a crowd of people filling up the facility's parking lot. A press release from Arc noted that more than $900,000 was raised for the expansion, allowing the facility to add three new machines for production.

Connely said the expansion was a three-year process that began with the grant in 2017, followed by construction on additions to the building in late 2018. He explained that Arc pursued the grant so that it could produce more textiles to meet growing military demand and to continue its Arctic Gear line.

“By adding more products, we’re able to make more money and then we’re able to use that money to go back into our mission to be able to serve the people who have developmental disabilities through our residential programs or our day programs,” he said. 

Lisa Guernsey, director of manufacturing, said the employees at the textile facility are not separated or designated based on level of ability.

“We’re all just employees when we walk through that door and our goal is just to be successful and to continue to grow,” she said. 

Through the Defense Logistics Agency, the facility makes fleece caps for the Army and Air Force, a wool cap for the Navy and Coast Guard, and laundry bags. Guernsey said the production of Arctic Gear winter hats will continue in a part of the new expansions.

Arc provides transportation to the Waterloo facility for employees who live in Cayuga County, Guernsey said, and there were eight residents of the neighboring county working a shift at the facility on the day of the ribbon-cutting. 

She said the event wasn’t just a celebration of the company’s success, but of the workers’ success as well.

“It’s hard to grow in small communities," she said. "But we’re going to keep growing and we’re not going to give up and we’re going to keep creating jobs.”

Staff writer Mary Catalfamo can be reached at (315) 282-2244 or mary.catalfamo@lee.net. Find her on Twitter @mrycatalfamo.

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Crime/courts reporter

I cover criminal court, public safety and the Cayuga County government for The Citizen and auburnpub.com. You can also find my health and entertainment features online and in the Lake Life section of the paper.

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