US textile boss steps in to save Negev factory

Gary Heiman, who already owns a southern mill, pledges NIS 1 million to help bail out Mitzpeh Atzma’ut sewing plant.

Mitzpeh Atzmaut factory_311 (photo credit: Don Avni)
Mitzpeh Atzmaut factory_311
(photo credit: Don Avni)
A prominent US textile industrialist has heeded President Shimon Peres’s call from last month to help save a Mitzpe Ramon sewing factory from closing its doors and rendering many local residents, mostly single mothers, unemployed.
Cincinnati-based Gary Heiman, President and CEO of Standard Textile – one of the top textile companies in the US and Europe – told The Jerusalem Post that his decision to help out the 35-year-old Mitzpeh Atzma’ut sewing plant was immediate and based on his “strong commitment to industry in Israel, especially the Negev.”
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“For the past 35 years I have been committed to bringing innovation and progressive industrial technology to conventional industries,” said Heiman, who also owns the Arad Textile factory and several other similar plants in Israel, adding that helping Mitzpeh Atzma’ut is “part of my belief that the periphery, and the Negev in particular, are important to the overall security of Israel.”
He added: “The goal is to provide respectable jobs to the people who live in these towns and to encourage others to move there.”
A spokeswoman for Heiman, who splits his time between the US and Israel and who started the Arad subsidiary in 1976, said that he was planning to invest roughly NIS 1 million to help build a sustainable infrastructure for the factory, which has more than 30 employees from neighboring towns and villages.
“At the moment we are committed to two months and during this time will undertake a study to analyze the economic and demand feasibility of the plant,” Heiman explained, adding that its proximity to a large number of army installations in southern Israel made the factory suitable for making uniforms and other military garments.
“We can’t allow these items to be imported from low-cost countries,” he said, commenting on the need for homegrown industry.
“A significant portion of this activity has to be done in Israel and particularly in the Negev, so that if there is another war [in the North] there is no danger of such plants temporarily closing.”
According to Heiman, his plants in Israel already supply a large portion of the uniforms to the military, as well as providing garments for other armies around the world. He said that $30 million dollars’ worth of uniforms were produced here, with 95 percent being exported to Europe and the US.
Standard Textile also supplies linens and towels to some of the world’s major hotels and health care facilities. In addition to Israel, the company has plants in some 13 other countries, including Jordan.
“Those who work here are delighted,” commented Itzik Berger, general manager of Mitzpeh Atzma’ut, of Heiman’s decision to step in.
“The workers returned to the factory this week very happy and want to thank everyone involved for helping to save their work place, including the president and, of course, Mr. Heiman.”
According to Berger, the factory has been in debt for some time and three months ago a decision was made to close.

“When we thought we were going to have to close, it was like a graveyard here. Most of the employees are older women or single mothers with children and they have no other options in this area for work, the only thing they know is sewing in the factory,” said Berger, describing how representatives of the president made a plea on behalf of the factory.
“I waited for a while to see what would happen but then I realized that I had to go to others for help, luckily the president and the media helped us and now there is a sense of optimism here.”
While it is still not certain whether Mitzpeh Atzma’ut will permanently become part of Heiman’s operations here in Israel, Berger said that everyone in the factory is willing to put in the time and effort to prove that they are a viable investment.