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Rohnert Park company finds all-American niche

  • Sue Wilson sews the edges onto an American Flag at North Bay Industries in Rohnert Park on Tuesday, February 18, 2014. NBI supplies flags for the Veteran's Affairs department and is non-profit organization providing employment opportunities to people with disabilities.

Strips of red, white and blue fabric lay draped on tables and piled in bins, making the North Bay Industries warehouse in Rohnert Park look like the set of "The Colbert Report" on Patriot Day.

The 28 workers busily stitched the colorful cloth into American flags 3 feet wide and 5 feet long, big enough to cover the coffin at a veteran's funeral.

Every part of these flags — from the upland cotton grown in the U.S. South, to dye added in South Carolina, to the American brass grommets, to the painstaking sewing in Rohnert Park — is American.

North Bay Industries

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The company churns out 83,334 flags per year that the Department of Veterans Affairs gives to the families of veterans when they pass away. The VA contract is worth $1 million, according to Robert Hutt, president and CEO.

North Bay Industries is one of a handful of companies that have benefited from a 16-year-old law requiring the Department of Veterans Affairs to purchase flags made wholly in America from American- grown and produced materials.

Until recently, the Department of Defense, which gives flags to families of soldiers killed while in uniform, was not required to source American made Stars and Stripes. Many of the memorial flags for fallen soldiers were made with cotton grown outside the U.S.

That struck a nerve with Congressman Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, who is a veteran of the Vietnam War. Thompson added a provision to the January budget bill requiring the Pentagon to buy flags made in America with American materials.

"It seems to me that it's a slam dunk," Thompson said Tuesday during a tour of North Bay Industries. "The DOD is buying flags made in other countries. I think that's inappropriate. As a wounded combat vet, I was appalled."

The act is symbolic but likely won't mean a huge jump in the American flag-making sector. The DOD buys about 1,000 to 2,000 flags per year, which could be worth about $100,000, Hutt said.

"We need to have these flags all come from the U.S.," Hutt said. "To think that someone can be killed in action and get a flag that is not from the U.S. doesn't make sense."


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