Haverhill is an old American city steeped in history, rich in culture, and beautiful in setting. Its location on the banks of the Merrimack River led to the emergence of a prominent shipbuilding industry in the 17th century. In the 19th century, it was at the helm of the American Industrial Revolution, in which large mill buildings popped up along the river, employing thousands of workers in the textile and shoemaking industries. As history has marched on, Haverhill’s economy has changed with the times, but for many industries it still makes sense to make it in Haverhill.

Haverhill’s economy is no longer based on one or two booming industries that employ most of the citizens. A more diverse and integrated economic model exists today. The city has found success by leveraging its workforce, infrastructure and real estate to create an affordable place to live and do business. The city’s economy has matured and diversified, integrating with the economic industries succeeding in the Greater Boston area. Haverhill is well represented in the high-growth innovation industries of the region, including aerospace, life sciences, sophisticated electronics, food production, and advanced manufacturing. Though new high-tech companies are succeeding in the area, old businesses with long historical roots are still present and flourishing. Among them is Southwick.
Southwick has been in the business of making clothes since 1929. It’s owned by Brooks Brothers, which has been around since 1818, making it the oldest clothing retailer in the United States. Southwick was founded by Nicholas and Vito Grieco, who emigrated from Italy in the early 1900s. They first established the business in Lawrence, under the name of Grieco Bros.; Southwick moved to Haverhill in 2009. A number of factors have kept the company in the region, including the availability of a skilled workforce, the rising costs of producing overseas, and an incentive package put together by the city of Haverhill.

Immigrants are the bedrock from which Southwick’s success has been built. The Grieco brothers came to the United States with few prospects and limited resources, yet they managed to build a successful business. The textile industry has always employed many immigrants and refugees, often because they arrive in this country with experience working with fabrics—or they are willing to put in the work.

The folks who work at Southwick hail from Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Central America, South America and Massachusetts. Lunch time at the company has been described as like “being on the floor of the United Nations,” with workers speaking languages from all over the world.

The economy of the Merrimack Valley has long depended on the immigrants who settled here. They were the driving force behind the American Industrial Revolution, and they remain an essential component to the regional economy—and to Southwick’s success.

The workers at Southwick come from communities across the Merrimack Valley, including Lawrence, Lowell, Methuen, Haverhill and Manchester, N.H. The work is demanding, but it comes with a host of benefits and livable wages. Southwick also provides free English-as-a-second-language classes to its employees and management training for workers who show promise.

For many first- and second-generation citizens, a job at Southwick provides a gateway into wealth and advancement. Employees are often recruited by each other. It’s not uncommon to hear of employees carpooling to work and then being able to buy their own cars and condos. A job at Southwick has been a steppingstone to a better life for many workers. The employees’ attitudes toward management reflect this. Just this year, eight out of 10 employees ranked Southwick as an “excellent place to work.” The workers are represented by the New England Joint Board Union, which has a been organizing and representing New England workers for more than a century.
Visiting the facility, we saw workers meticulously and skillfully sewing different parts of a suit together. Their movements are quick and precise. The whole process is hypnotizing. One could spend a whole day in the facility, going from station to station, seeing the different movements associated with assembling each piece. It’s a massive synchronized dance that has been perfected over the decades.

Southwick makes high-quality suits and pants, and the facility itself reflects that quality. It is a state-of-the-art modern clothing manufacturer with a skilled workforce, a massive open floor, bright lights, and a cool clean feel.

Since moving to Haverhill, Southwick has grown from 299 workers to 535 full-time employees. The company continues to grow and currently has 20 job openings. The Haverhill facility is a building previously occupied by Lowe’s in the city’s Broadway Business Park, just off Interstate 495’s Exit 50. A factory retail store is located on the premises.

As the global economy changes, so will the local economy. We have seen Haverhill’s ebb and flow with the times. Some things, however, are timeless, and a made-in-the-U.S.A suit seems like one of them. Southwick’s decision to keep its manufacturing in the Merrimack Valley has been an absolute asset to the city and the residents of Haverhill. It’s comforting to know that, just like 100 years ago, first- and second-generation citizens are making better lives for themselves right here on the modern manufacturing floor of an old New England city.

Made in Haverhill is a monthly series about manufacturers in Haverhill. Contact us to suggest a business for this column.

Nate Robertson is the assistant director Economic Development, City of Haverhill