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Company Stays Local After Bosses Inspired by Employee posted: 1/12/2004
by Susan Reinhardt Printable Page
Category: General Method: All Series: In The News
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FLETCHER - Employers can be ruthless, indifferent, or they can function like family, opening their hearts to employees as if they were their own kin.

It happened for Peggy Watkins. She heard her company was about to move its operations to its Seattle headquarters, and she was devastated.

Her job was her life.

For three years, Watkins, a 38-year-old Fairview woman who has Down syndrome, has cut and folded material for The Warm Co., near Fletcher, which makes cotton batting for the quilt, craft and sewing industries.

She loves her boss, Barry Brown, and all the employees at the business. She remembers their birthdays, likes to treat them to lunch with money from her paychecks.

To lose the job would mean losing a part of herself.

The owners of the company, Jim and Evelyn Chumbley of Seattle, came to town to check out operations and discuss the decision to relocate. They offered everyone jobs in the new plant.

"(Peggy) was crushed," said Kenny Stephenson, an assistant manager. "One of the most important things in her life is getting to come in here and work."

"I really like my job," Watkins said recently. "I've been there three years since the seventh of March. This job is important to me, and I was upset about it."

The owners saw the sadness in her face and her voice. They had just buried their adult son, a man who also had disabilities and was dependent upon them.

They could relate to Watkins and made a decision of the heart instead of the profit margin.

They decided to keep the company in the area. Watkins couldn't be happier. Because of that decision and the way the company treats employees, The Warm Co. won Small Employer of the Year from the N.C. Association For Persons in Supported Employment.

"We just really can't say enough about the owners," said Elaine Watkins, Peggy's mother. "This job gives her such independence. She likes having her own money. She can do her own shopping and likes to take people out to eat."

How close was The Warm Co. to relocating?

Brown said the company had already purchased a building 85 miles south of Seattle and was preparing to close the Fletcher facility.

"They were taken aback by Peggy," Brown said. "She told them, `This makes me sad. I love my job. I love my bosses.' A lot of their decision to keep the plant here had to do with her.

"She's sharp," he said. "She's something."

Contact Reinhardt at
ON THE NET: The Warm Co.:
Asheville Citizen-Times:

Reprinted with permission from The Asheville Citizen-Times, Asheville, NC, USA and Susan Reinhardt

2004 Susan Reinhardt

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