The Journal Gazette
Thursday, December 03, 2015 12:12 am

Clothing maker to add 415 jobs

Sherry Slater | The Journal Gazette

A local manufacturer whose products give customers the equivalent of a long, steady hug expects to create 415 jobs in the next 3 1/2 years. The company’s explosive growth is also giving Vera Bradley’s former sewing staff an opportunity to rejoin the local workforce.

Excellon Technologies Inc. is investing $2.1 million in equipment and building upgrades at 1105 Sherman Blvd. as it expands production of CapeAble Sensory Products, one of its divisions. Excellon primarily supplies the defense and aerospace industries.

Created by Marna Pacheco and Susan Hickok, CapeAble products are weighted clothing that provide steady, calming pressure for people living with stress, anxiety, autism, attention deficit disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Down syndrome, Parkinson’s disease and various mental health conditions.

The evenly distributed weight – provided by poly pellets – touches the body’s pressure points, causing the brain to release the feel-good hormone dopamine, Pacheco said.

"The natural response of the body is, ‘Ahhh,’ " she added of the patent-pending products now available in a retail showroom at the company’s headquarters.

The line now consists of 18 products, including capes, scarves and blankets. The reversible items close with magnets and are machine-washable.

Prices range from $25 to $700 for a king-size blanket.

Pacheco, who adopted a child with autism, first researched weighted products at the recommendation of her daughter’s occupational therapist. The local mom was disappointed to find that everything available looked plain and institutional. She knew her daughter would respond more positively to something pretty.

So Pacheco’s first creation was an "adorable, sweet, pink cape." She teamed with Hickok, who has a degree in clothing design and pattern-making and could sew the creations.

Former Vera Bradley workers are now sewing the product line.

Jim Hawthorne, Excellon’s general manager, knew this expansion was coming, so this year he reached out to the 250 workers who were going to be displaced when Vera Bradley closed its New Haven factory in the spring. That was just a few months after the local handbag manufacturer eliminated its second shift and 150 sewing jobs last fall.

Many of the workers are immigrants with limited proficiency in English, which somewhat narrows their job options.

Excellon had a spring hiring fair with all the workers and has a file with 265 completed job applications from them.

Of Excellon’s 65-person workforce, 15 make CapeAble products. All but two of them came from Vera Bradley, Hawthorne said. Another 15 applicants have completed the company’s screening process and are ready to start work any time, he said. The second group is made up entirely of former Vera Bradley workers.

Hawthorne plans to hire as many of the experienced seamstresses, tailors and support personnel as possible. He expects to add positions every month or two through 2019.

"We’re conservative on our estimate" of how many jobs will be created, he said. "It’s exciting. We’ve done 21/2 years of research and development."

In exchange for state and local incentives, Excellon has committed to an average pay rate of no less than $12.50 an hour, Hawthorne said. He hopes to increase wages while keeping the company profitable.

At $12.50 an hour, annual wages for a full-time job are $26,000. Indiana’s average wage was $42,552 last year. Although state and local officials have stressed the need to increase the average by attracting and creating higher-wage jobs, they didn’t press that point with Excellon, Hawthorne said.

The Indiana Economic Development Corp. has offered Excellon up to $925,000 in conditional tax credits and up to $50,000 in training grants, based on the company’s job creation plans.

Officials will also seek local tax incentives.

At 27,000 square feet, Excellon’s building has room for about 45 more workers, Hawthorne said, before officials will need to invest in more production space.

Jill Sparks and her late husband, Claude, bought Excellon Technologies Inc. in 2011. As grandparents of a special-needs child, they were interested in Cape­Able products and decided to partner with Pacheco and Hickok.

"Without Excellon, there would be no CapeAble," Pacheco said while addressing local and state officials, members of the media and Excellon employees, who were gathered under a white tent in the company’s parking lot.

Gov. Mike Pence attended Tuesday afternoon’s announcement. He praised Pacheco for thinking of ways to help others as she responded to her daughter’s need for comfort and security. Pence described Excellon and CapeAble as "two homegrown success stories."

"Indiana is all heart," Pence said. "We care about the most vulnerable."

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