By Marian Galbraith
Despite problems with a 2011 government contract, Tullahoma Industries has accepted two more with the U.S. Army for combat trousers totaling $258 million over the next five years.
The announcement preceded a visit Thursday from Sixth Congressional District Rep. Dianne Black, R-Tenn., who toured the company's facilities to provide aid in working out details in a contract rejected by the Army in 2011.
Tullahoma Industries is a local supplier of high-grade military apparel
Jamie Davenport, Tullahoma Industries vice president of administration, said his company is thrilled to get the new authorization to continue combat trouser production.
"This new contract is for the same trousers we've been making for the military for the last five years," he said. "But it will definitely require us to expand our production."
Of the total amount, Davenport said $77 million was obtained through the Historically Underutilized Business Zones (HUBZone) portion of the Small Business Administration.
"The HUBZone program is designed to cater to economically depressed areas, and the Tullahoma area qualifies for that," he said.
Tullahoma Industries executives lead U.S. Rep. Diane Black, who represents Tennessee's Sixth District, on a tour of the company's production facilities Thursday. From left are Tom Earnhart, vice president of manufac-turing; Black; Chief Executive Officer Richard Davenport; and Jamie Davenport, vice president of administration. --Staff photo by Marian Galbraith
Asked how many new employees would be needed, Davenport said he didn't know.
"We'll have to get our production level up to 14,000 units per week," he said. "Right now, we're producing 9,000 per week, but we won't know how many people we're going to hire until we figure out how much automation we're going to use."
He added that the company has hired an outside consultant starting next week to analyze the operation and determine how much automation can be used for the new contract.
"The more automation we end up using, the fewer people we will need, but even with automation we will still need equipment operators," he said. "We just don't what that number is yet."
As if this were not exciting enough, the company also has the possibility of landing yet another contract for the coats to accompany the trousers.
"There's a company in Mississippi that has already gotten most of the award to make the coats," he said, "but there is still about $70-$120 million more that has not been announced.
"We might get the contract for that too, but we won't know until the end of May."
Black's appearance Thursday was, in part, to assist Tullahoma Industries with an issue it was having with one of its many Department of Defense contracts.
The visit was part of Black's tour of Coffee County to speak to some of its larger manufacturers, including Viam Manufacturing and Cubic Transportation Systems Inc.
"We used the same army-approved contractors we've always used to apply and test the insecticide levels," the elder Davenport said. "And they said it passed, but the army's testing facility in Natick, Massachusetts claims there was too much insecticide on the fabric, so the lot was rejected."
The elder Davenport said that while new contracts with DOD are still coming in, the rejected lot of 20,000 combat uniforms was expensive to produce and now, can't be sold.
The younger Davenport said that while the company's uniforms were otherwise approved for military use, they had trouble selling them on commercial markets due to price undercutting from the many "knock-offs" from China, Dominican Republic, and elsewhere that are cheaper to produce.
Black agreed that undercutting and other problems were prevalent in U.S. trade contracts with China.
"We've had problems with China for theft of intellectual property, too," Black said, "and not just from the Chinese businesses, but from the government itself.
"We've had to take them to the World Trade Organization several times for stealing and copying our software and things like that, and we've won every time."
The Davenports showed Black around their entire facility, including its fabric cutting rooms, sewing floor, and Grady Mac Denim company store, where she seemed delighted by the historic charm of the building as well as its collection of old photos and antiques.
"I can't promise I can help you guys, but I'll certainly try," Black said, "and I'll be sure and put the word out about what you're are doing down here."