Textile plant seeks extension to add 300 jobs in zoneBy Marilyn Bowden
A new textile manufacturing firm on the edge of Overtown could provide more than 300 jobs in one of the city's poorest neighborhoods, principals said.
Jim Beard, president & CEO of Overtown Manufacturing Co., which makes apparel and other textile items for the military, says he has contracts that could spur the company's growth from its core crew of 25 employees to more than 300 in two to three years if he can find space to expand.
The company is now in 15,000 square feet leased at 575 NW 24th St.
"We'd like to buy something more like 45,000-50,000 square feet," Mr. Beard said. "There's not a lot of contiguous space that size in the inner city, so we may need to use empowerment trust funds to build.
"But if we could find a decent-sized warehouse or garage we would definitely consider that as an option."
Although much of the apparel industry uses overseas labor for assembly, Mr. Beard said articles for the military must be manufactured in the US.
"It's not glamorous work," he said. "It requires teaching people basic skills and how to be efficient and productive. We are trying to be an industrial engine to drive success. Programs like Welfare to Work only work if employers are there. High-tech jobs aren't going to do it."
He said the company is focusing on bringing in people, including ex-offenders, from Overtown and neighboring Wynwood.
Both areas are within the Miami empowerment zone, which was established by the federal government in February 1999. In the zone, businesses that meet requirements may be eligible for tax incentives and other financial assistance.
"Our goal is to have a third to a half of our employees come out of the empowerment zone," Mr. Beard said. "We are in the process of implementing training programs with the empowerment trust starting in January."
Overtown Manufacturing, which celebrated its opening last week, was funded by the Metro-Miami Action Plan Trust, the Miami-Dade Empowerment Trust and SunTrust Bank, Mr. Beard said.
Executive Director Bryan Finnie said the empowerment trust has a $75,000 equity investment in the Overtown project.
"This is a talented, up-and-coming executive who had an idea and executed it," he said. "I hope and pray we find others like that throughout the zone."
He said the trust has so far closed on four other loans to existing businesses within the Homestead and Miami empowerment zones and is about to close on a $100,000 investment in a housing project in Liberty City.
The trust has also made a number of what it calls micro-loans in the neighborhood of $5,000 to small businesses with no other access to capital, Mr. Finnie said.
Miami-Metro Action Plan Trust, which contributed a $900,000 grant to Overtown Manufacturing, was set up in 1983 as a response to a US Civil Rights Commission report that found discontent in Miami's Black communities, said Jeff Watson of J. Watson & Co., project consultant.
The trust's mission, he said, is to address socio-economic disparities in housing, economic development, youth development, health and human services and the like.
In 1998, he said, as a result of efforts by Rep. Carrie P. Meek, the trust received a $2.4 million grant from the federal departments of Veteran Affairs and Housing & Urban Development for the economic revitalization of Overtown, an area where unemployment is estimated at 25%.
"We received 60-odd proposals for Meek Fund Project money," Mr. Watson said. "Eight were chosen and funded. The majority were very traditional businesses owned by African-Americans."
The application of Overtown Manufacturing the only startup chosen appealed because "it had all the buzz-words," he said, "high job creation, a willingness to invest in the area. But it would not have been possible without the assistance of the Meek Fund."
Other businesses benefitting from Meek Fund dollars, he said, are existing businesses such as groceries and restaurants, most owned by African-American women.
"I like to think," Mr. Watson said, "we will get more funds so we can continue doing this."
Metro-Miami Action Plan, (305) 579-3618; empowerment zone trust, (305) 372-7620.
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