Presidential suitmaker Hart Schaffner & Marx proposes to add roughly 100 jobs at its Des Plaines factory and expand its operations with help from city officials, who are aiding the company's application for a $1.5 million federal grant.
The Des Plaines city council this week authorized staff to apply for the $1.5 million grant administered by the state as part of the $6.5 billion Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery IKE Program. The federal program was established to provide relief to communities affected by natural disasters.
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At the council meeting, resident Brian Burkross questioned why the city was helping Hartmarx with the grant and not any other struggling businesses.
"How does picking this one company and rebuilding their factory lend itself to this goal outlined in this grant," Burkross said. "As a taxpayer, whether it's coming from the federal level, state level or municipality, it is still costing me money. How does this company fit into the criteria -- are they blighted? Is the community going to get some benefit from this?"
The grant program's goals are to: benefit low- to moderate-income persons; aid in the prevention or elimination of slums and blight; and meet urgent community development needs posing a serious and immediate threat to the health and welfare of the community.
Des Plaines' incoming City Manager Mike Bartholomew said the city did not seek out Hartmarx for the grant, but rather was approached by the state.
"We became aware of this in the dealings that the mayor has had with the governor's office and his initiative to create jobs," he said. "There is no guarantee that the money will actually come to us."
Des Plaines Mayor Marty Moylan said the biggest benefit to the city is the creation of jobs that residents can vie for.
"And many residents work there right now," said Moylan, who used the Des Plaines factory as a backdrop to announce his candidacy for state representative in the 55th House District. "When I go to the facility, I see people that are American citizens and they are making American products. If the facility doesn't get the grant money, somebody else will."
Hart Schaffner & Marx was thrust into the national limelight in 2008 when then-President-elect Barack Obama revealed it was his preferred brand and wore a Hartmarx suit to the inauguration.
In 2009, federal, state and local leaders, including Moylan, rallied around the company's workers when the 125-year-old company, formerly run by Chicago-based Hartmarx Corp., filed for bankruptcy.
It was acquired for $128.4 million by India-based textile giant SKNL and London-based Emerisque Brands, saving nearly 600 jobs at the Des Plaines factory. Several Hartmarx manufacturing plants, including the company's only other Illinois factory in Rock Island and a warehouse in Michigan City, Ind., were shut down.
In 2010, Hartmarx added workers at the Des Plaines factory to produce up to 1,000 pants weekly. Before then, the Des Plaines factory made only jackets. Moylan said Hartmarx now is in the process of selling its clothing line through a big box store chain and needs the grant money to purchase machinery to expand its production capabilities.
Bartholomew said the state is also working with Rock Island to revive Hartmarx's operations there.