Courtesy of the VanWert Times-Bulletin

VAN WERT - In a surprise move Tuesday afternoon, KAM Manufacturing announced that it will be forced to discontinue most or all of its operations by the end of 2008.

KAM's largest customer, Vera Bradley Designs, Inc. decided to cut off relationships with all domestic sewing contractors and integrate all sewing operations into its current structure by the end of the year. That decision leaves KAM and its 140 employees facing an uncertain future.

Company leaders met with employees during their shifts Tuesday and with Van Wert Mayor Louie Ehmer and County Economic Development Director Nancy Bowen late Tuesday afternoon.

After the meeting, Ehmer said, "Just talking to them, while it was quite disappointing, knowing the Adams family and knowing what they did after the tornado and how they started there at that shop downtown behind East of Chicago, I really believe that this obstacle is going to turn into an opportunity and they're going to be better off for it. They'll come out of it."

Bowen added, "I do think that there is some strong leadership with KAM. They'll find a way to work through. I know that they are hoping to retain as many employees as they can for the long term."

The relationship between Vera Bradley and KAM goes back before the founding of KAM Manufacturing in 1988 in a garage in Convoy. Kim Adams and an associate had been doing work for four or five years prior to the company's startup. Kim started with less than ten people and a 20 by 30 foot room.

From the garage, the company moved into the former Pollock's building on Main St. in Van Wert. In 1991, the move was made to S. Washington St.

KAM moved into its Vision Park location on July 4, 1999, but the November 2002 tornado destroyed the facility. After a temporary stay in Ohio City while the factory was rebuilt, the company moved back into the 20,000 square foot Vision Park in January of 2004.

The company was named Enterprise of the Year in 2005 and the county's Small Business of the Year in 2006.

According to Ollie Adams, treasurer/secretary, KAM is committed to pursuing other opportunities to sustain its current workforce. "They are very upbeat," Ehmer shared. "They are very dedicated to their employees and they want to take care of their employees, that's first on their mind."

To take care of those employees, KAM is going to have to find more customers quickly. Bowen noted, "They're really thinking about all kinds of innovative ideas. They really have looked at ways to diversify their product lines in the past. I think this kind of forces them in that direction."

The beginning of Vera Bradley's integration will likely be later this fall.