Officials gather for Exxel Outdoors’ grand reopening

Shown at the ribbon cutting, from left, Kimeral Wilson, human resources manager; Paul Housel representing U.S. Congressman Robert Aderholt; Gwen Shelton, representing U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville; Harry Kazazian, Exxel Outhdoors’ Chairman and CEO; Former U.S. Senator and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions; State Representative Tracy Estes and Haleyville Mayor Ken Sunseri.

HALEYVILLE       -  Exxel Outdoors’ great American story of manufacturing quality products at home in America took the spotlight October 13, at their Alabama location in Haleyville, with a visit from federal, state and local officials celebrating a grand reopening and future expansion.
Known as the top sleeping bag manufacturer in the United States, Exxel Outdoors produces around one and a half million units per year. The sleeping bags the company manufacturers meet a wide scope of needs, from recreational enthusiasts to technically advanced  military sleep systems protecting soldiers from the harsh elements when deployed to remote locations, officials said.
Sleeping bags are also sent to those recovering from natural disasters, most recently victims of floods in Kentucky and Hurricane Ian in Florida, officials added.
Exxel Outdoors’ goal is continuing its American-made tradition  so it will successfully continue for generations to come.  Exxel’s 250,000 square foot location in Haleyville manufactures about 7,500 sleeping bags a day with a total workforce of approximately 148 employees, announced Eric Huggins, vice president of manufacturing.
Huggins led a group of officials on a tour of the facility before the grand reopening was celebrated at the facility’s main employee entrance.  During the tour, officials were able to see a vast amount of upgrades and improvements made to the facility, starting with the facility’s exterior, which has been beautified with natural wood paneling and landscaping upgrades.  Inside, modernization work has been done in the lobby, the conference room and administrative offices.  Employee restrooms have also been upgraded and remodeled.  A brand-new outdoor employee break area has been created next to the indoor break room, which has also been upgraded.  A tree-studded park has also been created outside for employees, complete with a shady pavilion and areas to dine and relax.  The roof of the facility has been painted white to help reflect sunlight and save on energy costs, Huggins told officials on the tour.
Following the tour, company officials and  employees from all production lines came to the parking lot with the government officials in attendance.  Huggins, in welcoming all employees and guests to the facility’s reopening event, noted a lot of hard work by many individuals - from the corporate level to the local employees -had helped make that day a reality.
“It was important to me that everyone who came here took pride in what we are accomplishing and what we are doing together,” Exxel Outdoors Chairman and CEO Harry Kazazian said.  Kazazian co-founded the factory with his business partner, Armen Kouleyan.
“I want to give all the employees a hand, because none of this would have happened without all the hard work and dedication that you all have put in.  Everyone - give yourselves a hand,” Kazazian added, being met with resounding applause from employees and officials in attendance.
Kazazian noted that Exxel’s factory has taken quite a journey during its existence since around 2000, when the former sleeping bag manufacturing facility located in the facility was looking at shutting its doors and laying off employees.
“From the first day we came in, we realized the value was in the employees and in the team we have here,” Kazazian remarked.  “That began our thinking about the significance that more and more companies were leaving this country and taking their manufacturing offshore.
“We wanted all the employees to know we were making a commitment to American manufacturing, to producing things in this country,” Kazazian pointed out. “It’s about what this country was founded on.”
When in Washington, D.C. fighting for the survival of the factory in Haleyville due to an unfair trade policy specifically for sleeping bags, Kazazian met now-former U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions, who played a major role in keeping Exxel open and manufacturing in America.  Sessions made sure that no overseas manufacturer would have an unfair trade advantage over American sleeping bag manufacturers.
Sessions, who was in attendance at the event, told the audience that this was one of his first major fights for economic development where he teamed with U.S. Congressman Robert Aderholt.
“I knew your future was at stake,” Sessions stated. “The way you had been treated by China  and the way they were doing things.  We got some legislation to fix that, and we can now see the progress you are making.
“This experience has taught me something,” Sessions continued. “This whole idea that we cannot compete on a world stage is not correct. If we protect our companies against unfair trade competition, we can make America better.”
Haleyville Mayor Ken Sunseri noted the grand reopening marked a special day for the city.
“It’s an honor to be here with Senator Sessions again, and the work that he and Congressman Aderholt have done to save this company from foreign competition,” Sunseri said.   “Several years ago, we didn’t know if this plant would stay open.”
Exxel Outdoors not only overcame  unfair trade agreements, but also the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the mayor explained.
“For the past two years, we have faced COVID-19, which has had an adverse effect on our economy, our community and our nation,” Sunseri pointed out.
“As we celebrate U.S. Manufacturers Day, I want to especially thank these employees. A continuous growth of this facility is due to their efforts,” Sunseri continued.
“We are looking forward to a bright future here,” said Sunseri, who then presented Exxel employees with a key to the city, which is bestowed upon individuals with outstanding service to the city.
Sunseri called forward Gloria Pelt, Peggy Robertson and Linda Cagle to accept the key on behalf of the employees.
“I am excited to see what is coming to Haleyville as a result of today’s event,” noted State Representative Tracy Estes.
“I couldn’t be more impressed with what I have seen,” Estes added. “The tour has given us a better insight into what is done here. The facility is virtually spotless.  I don’t know how you can do mass production and keep things as clean as they have.
“Our job is to keep our people employed so they can provide a good standard of living for their families, send their children to our schools, participate in our civic activities, be involved in our local churches, be civic leaders and be proud to call Haleyville, Alabama their home,” Estes continued.
Estes then presented a resolution prepared at the Alabama House of Representatives to employee Jean Scogin, honoring the Exxel Outdoor company for its value and service in the area.
 Gwen Shelton, regional director for U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville, read a statement on the senator’s behalf.
“A hearty congratulations to what you have accomplished in a very short time,” Shelton read. “Few people realize the greatest benefit in ‘Made in America’  is our independence--independence from overseas manufactured goods, independence from foreign investors, foreign control of our jobs and livelihoods that support our American families.
“You found value in rescuing a company, preserving it and growing jobs in your community, thereby realizing a true American dream.” Shelton continued.

Factory Manager Lynda Arnett accepted Tuberville's statement from Shelton on behalf of all Exxel employees.
Paul Housel, district field director for Aderholt, read a statement on the congressman’s behalf to those employed by Exxel Outdoors.
“I would like to congratulate the workers of Exxel Outdoors of Haleyville for their dedication in producing high quality products that represent Alabama exceptionalism,” Housel read.
“Your hard work and attention to detail have contributed greatly to the overall success of Exxel Outdoors and bolstered Alabama’s strong reputation for being a great state for manufacturing,” Housel added.
Housel called employee Tammy Sartin forward to receive Aderholt’s proclamation on behalf of employees.

See complete story in the Northwest Alabamian.
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