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Made in the Midwest: Woolen Mill a Story of Revival

Posted at: 02/18/2013 7:34 AM
Updated at: 02/18/2013 10:55 AM

(ABC 6 NEWS) -- Every town and city has its own history and at least one thing that sets itself apart from anywhere else.

Whether it be a museum, a piece of nature or famous restaurant.

In Faribault, it's a woolen mill. One that's been open for nearly 150 years.

If the town of Faribault could write a story about itself, it would probably tell one of heartbreak and revival. The setting? A woolen mill.

Everything is normal now. People going about their day making wool blankets. A few years ago though, everything was not okay because no one was here.

"They got up and left and that's the way it looked," said Paul Mooty, the current president/CFO of the Faribault Woolen Mill Co. He's talking about the former owners, who he says couldn't survive the recession.

"I think they ran into the head winds of things moving offshore," said Mooty.

Between 2009 and 2011 the machines sat still. The business had been through so much opening in 1865, just seven years after Minnesota became a state.

"This business survived the Great Depression, world wars, a number of economic cycles," said Mooty.

History, when it created the first wash-proof and moth-proof wool and history literally written in the walls by Agnes Robertson in 1911. The company staked its reputation on selling quality blankets to U.S. troops and families.

"This is a very very special place," said Mooty.

Debby Nelson was just shy of her 35th year at the mill when she was laid off.

"I've had a lot of relatives work here," said Nelson.

Dan Smith was laid off as well. He started working at the mill in 1979.

But the next chapter in this story involves fate. Enter Paul Mooty, a successful Minnesota businessman.

When he first visited the mill, he found no plumbing and water damage from a flood. Its assets were to be sold to someone in Pakistan and he knew nothing about the woolen blanket industry. Some tough odds for anyone, but for Mooty "there was a meant-to-be feeling about this," he said.

That feeling turned out to be true.  The Pakistan sale fell through and instead it went to Mooty and his cousin.

"People, they want to see things back in the U.S. and there's no reason why we can't do it," said Mooty.

Keeping jobs local. That was his mission then and it is now.

"We should be able to compete in a global market," said Mooty.

One year after re-opening, he says things are going well. He says the mill's revival wouldn't have been possible without former employees like Debby Nelson and Dan Smith.

"I wish I was younger so I could work here longer," said Nelson.

She has now officially, worked at the mill for 35 years and Smith is happy to call the mill home once again.

"It was almost like a family coming back," said Smith.

Nearly 150 years, and the town of Faribault has yet to write an ending about its woolen mill. As they say, with every up there's a down, and in the case of the mill, with heartache also comes happiness.

"Why stop, keep on going," said Smith.

The mill was recently placed on the National Register of Historic Places.