WXXI Local Stories
Thu May 13, 2004
$7 Million Aid Package Keeps Hickey Freeman in Rochester
By Bud Lowell
Rochester, NY – Chief Operating Officer Paulette Garofolo stood before hundreds of cheering workers at Hickey Freeman Company today and told them "we're home!"
Governor Pataki, Mayor Bill Johnson and other officials joined her in announcing a seven-million-dollar economic development package. It will keep the 104-year-old men's clothing company in northeast Rochester by funding extensive renovations of its North Clinton Avenue plant.
Hickey Freeman's parent company -- Hartmarx -- had offered the men's suit maker space at a vacant plant in Chicago. Had the plant left, it would have taken more than 650 jobs with it.
Governor Pataki says officials of all levels and all parties pitched in to keep that from happening.
They put together a package of four million dollars in state aid and one million from the City of Rochester. The final two million is coming from Hickey Freeman itself and from the UNITE union which represents plant workers. It will fund extensive renovations to keep the plant competetive and air conditioning for the production workers who hand-stitch exclusive men's suits together.
Mayor Johnson says loss of Hickey Freeman would have devestated northeast Rochester, where many of the largely immigrant workforce lives within walking distance of the plant gates. Johnson says the city worked for more than two years to keep that from happening.
Hickey Freeman CEO Duffy Hickey said the company did serious number crunching before deciding that it was better off in Rochester where Hickey's grandfather helped found the company more than 100 years before.
He says that research included studies on where the highly-skilled tailors who work in the factory lived.
Hickey Freeman workers represent 17 different nationalities. The plant has historically been an entry into Rochester for immigrants, beginning with Italians in the early 20th century, then Turks, Hispanics and Asians.
The Rochester area's entire state assembly delegation appeared with Johnson, County Executive Maggie Brooks and Governor Pataki, most pulling back their suit coats to show off the Hickey-Freeman labels inside. State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver told plant workers he buys both his suits and his shirts at the plant's factory store, prompting Rochester Business Alliance CEO Tom Mooney to remind the gathered politicians that Hickey Freeman also makes boxer shorts.