Leader Blues

Friday, February 01, 2008

TOP STORY >> New beret company is looking at central Arkansas

Leader staff writer

Jensen Apparel, the only company in the United States that makes military-style berets, hopes to get the big contract that once went to Bancroft in Cabot.

Tommy Jensen, who has only been making berets for a year and a half, said this week that if he is successful, he will need trained workers. And the only places that he knows to find them are Virginia, where he has taken over the factory, and workers of Dorothea Knitting, and in Arkansas, where Bancroft’s berets were rejected because they contained foreign materials.

Jensen will be at Cabot Chamber of Commerce in the old bank building beside city hall, from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, Feb. 16 to talk to prospective employees.

“This is a fact-finding mission,” Jensen said Friday afternoon. “I don’t know if I’m going to locate there.” If he does, Jensen said it won’t be in the Bancroft building. He said he has toured that factory several times over the past months, and he isn’t interested in using it or any of the equipment. “I’m into modern equipment,” he said.

However, he said, making berets comes close to being an art form, and if he gets a big government contract, he will need about 30 of the people who worked at the Cabot factory.

A federal law says that every part of the clothing worn by military personnel must be assembled in the United States from products produced here unless that is not possible. With Bancroft effectively out of business and Dorothea Knitting back in Canada after opening a factory in Virginia for a few years to win part of the last big contract, Jensen said his company is the only American company that can be awarded the next one.

Bancroft had been working with a skeleton crew for several months when it laid off workers and closed its doors in December 2006.

Diana Stewart, chief of corporate communications with Defense Supply Center in Philadelphia, which is responsible for procuring medicine, clothing and food for the Department of Defense, said in January 2007 that Bancroft was delinquent in its contract with the DOD to supply black berets for the Army and Air Force and that, in fact, Bancroft owed the DOD reimbursement for about 340,000 berets delivered before March 2006, which contained some foreign components making them out of compliance with federal law and unacceptable for soldiers to wear.

Additionally, Stewart said the DOD did not pay Bancroft for 4,992 berets delivered in March 2006 that did not contain foreign components. Instead, the money owed to Bancroft was applied to Bancroft’s debt to the DOD, she said.

Stewart said Bancroft’s contract was considered delinquent because 354,504 berets were not shipped on July 15, 2006 as the contract called for. That shipment of berets was to have been Bancroft’s last for a while because the $14.8 million contract for up to 3.6 million berets, which started in 2002, was up on that date and no more berets are needed at this time.

Jensen said Friday that when it is time for another multi-year contract, he wants to be ready to bid on it.