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American Felt & Filter feels like a family

NEW WINDSOR New York USA: A local manufacturer employs basic values in business.
By Tara Thomas
The Times Herald-Record, Middletown, NY, 27 August 2000

By all accounts, American Felt & Filter Co. is a family. The company has evolved since it was founded as the American Felt Co. in 1899. But the family atmosphere hasn't changed. "The relationships we have with each other are close ones. There wouldn't be anything we wouldn't do for each other," said Bernadette Dominguez, sales representative for felt products.

Bill Pryne joined American Felt & Filter as an hourly worker in 1967 and worked his way up to president by 1996. He bought the  company in 1998. "I don't ask anything of a person that I can't do myself, because I did it all my life. That's who I am," Pryne said.

Pryne has had to face some disappointments since taking control of the company. "We struggled to stay alive," he said. That struggle included downsizing and a drop in sales. Today, American Felt & Filter operates out of facilities in Newburgh and New Windsor with 70 employees. When Pryne joined the company, it had five additional plants in New England, with a company-wide total of about 2,000 employees.

American Felt and DuPont used to be major employers in the Newburgh area. Frank Kochesky, technical director of research and development, is a third-generation American Felt employee. "I feel like family, because my father worked here for a while and both my grandfathers," Kochesky said. His relatives eventually took jobs at DuPont, because the walk to work was shorter. He joined American Felt & Filter in 1964. Many of Kochesky's co-workers have been with the company for  20 years or more. Ask employees how long they've been there, and many will refer to their service-anniversary plaques on the wall. When they talk about their jobs, the word "family" comes up time and again.

Personal connections to the company help to keep it staffed at a time when manufacturing workers are in high demand in Orange County. The employees are so close-knit, they don't often leave. When there is an opening, Pryne often hires friends and relatives of the employees he has. "These people here make this company," he said.

And they make a diverse product line. American Felt started out manufacturing woolen felts for hats, pool tables, piano strikers and engine gaskets. Now, the company engineers various fibers for a wide range of products – from fibers that can be dropped onto a burning candle without melting or catching fire to materials used in missiles. American Felt & Filter developed the first silicon-free computer chip in the late 1970s, Pryne said. The company also manufactures cleaning strips for automatic car washes, the tips for markers and felt-tipped pens, chalkboard erasers, seals and wicks, facial cleansing pads, padding for braces, and orthopedic supports. Liquid and air-filtration products are another big aspect of the business. The materials have changed, too.

Pryne estimates that 70 percent of the company's products were made from wool and 30 percent from synthetic materials 25 years ago. Now, it's the exact opposite, he said. The 50-year-old Pryne is the fifth owner of American Felt & Filter. His sons have been with the company since the mid-1990s. Scott Pryne is vice president and director of manufacturing. Mark Pryne is secretary and director of sales. "I don't want to be a Fortune 500 company," Bill Pryne said. "I want to be able to come to work and have fun at what I do."