The textile industry used to be the leading economic provider for Burlington. Now the trend seems to have come full circle with the entry of the VitaFlex company.
An affiliate of Burlington Technologies, a leading manufacturer and distributor of fine upholstery fabrics, VitaFlex plans to add 100 new jobs in the next year.
The company will be housed in the Pioneer Plant, the first plant built by Burlington Industries, and will specialize in latex-free, elastic nonwoven material.
The Pioneer Plant was built in 1923 and specialized in yarn and woven fabrics.
The first product VitaFlex will market will be a stretch hood, which will be worn over the face to protect against elements such as debris, dust and airborne chemicals.
“The full coverage (product) on the market today is the spray sock,” said VitaFlex CEO Al Blalock, who has worked for Burlington Industries for 16 years. “It’s crudely made and is all imported. We have a unique advantage — better conformability, better air filtration, better cost.”
Most of the materials used in this type of industry are produced off shore for lower labor costs, but VitaFlex’s products will all be locally made.
Nothing will be imported from other countries.
De-Sheng Tsai is the inventor of the latex-free nonwoven process and will serve as president and chief scientific officer.
Tsai discovered the process about 12 years ago while working in his home of native Taiwan. He invented the stretch hood and had it trademarked by 2004. After working for Dupont, Tsai came to Burlington to market his product.
“I’m very proud of it,” Tsai said. “For the past five years, day and night, I kept wondering, ‘Where is the entry point?'”
Tsai said the best part about the stretch hood is its benefits for the environment and its local base.
“It’s so simple,” he said. “This product is greener … other disposable products are all imported. We probably will be the only ones (to have this technology).”
The company plans to extend its product line soon, including masks, sleeves, booties, smocks, medical wraps and covers for hospital rooms.
“Almost anywhere you see a traditional nonwoven (product) can be adapted to our product,” Blalock said. “No one else in the world is doing this.”
VitaFlex will begin hiring starting in the new year and will work with Alamance Community College to support employee training.
“We’re excited we’re bringing jobs back to Burlington, to an area that has been hit hard by the current economy,” said Susan Heaton, director of sales and marketing for VitaFlex. “We’re pumping new technology back into an area that hasn’t seen this technology in quite some time. It’s huge news in the nonwoven industry.”
According to Blalock, the first 100 jobs are only the beginning.
“We expect this company to grow by leaps and bounds,” Blalock said. “The sky is the limit.”