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Riverdale Mills at home in a world of wire

By Rod Lee

There may be few throwbacks left to the Blackstone Valley’s glory days as the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution. But one of them—Riverdale Mills Corp. in Northbridge—is a 21st Century powerhouse.

Situated on Riverdale St. next to a placid pond where two bald eagles nest, “Riverdale” (as the company is now known by its abbreviated name) is one of the largest manufacturers of galvanized and PVC-coated welded wire mesh in the world. Founded in 1980 by James M. Knott Sr., his son Jim Jr. and their family and still owned by the Knotts, Riverdale specializes in the design and creation of commercial, industrial and consumer wire products, tools and accessories for the marine, agriculture, security and construction and farming industries.

Riverdale is the pioneering inventor of Aquamesh, the industry standard material for lobster traps.

Much in the news of late as a potential provider of wire fencing for the so-called “Trump Wall” along the Mexican border, Riverdale is far from a one-trick pony. During an interview in the company’s administrative offices on April 4th, Jim Jr., who is carrying on his father’s legacy as president and CEO, expressed pride in both the array of applications Riverdale’s wire is used for and the firm’s growth.

“Our growth has been substantial,” Mr. Knott, who bears a striking resemblance to his dad, said. “We had sixty employees when I came back in 2010, 2011 (he had left in 1997 to pursue other ventures and upon returning made it a priority to “stabilize the shop floor”). Now, he said, “we are up to 180-185 employees and going 24/7.”

Typifying this surge are “open positions” that Riverdale was looking to fill as of April 4th: industrial electrician; machine operators with mechanical aptitude; maintenance mechanic; maintenance planner; manufacturing engineer; material handlers (nights); process/project/plant engineer; quality assurance specialist; sales manager; and sales representative.

At the outset thirty-seven years ago the fishing industry constituted 100 percent of the business Riverdale did. Today marine is still an important slice of the overall revenue stream at 40 to 50 percent. “Demand for product is high,” Mr. Knott said. “The marine industry is doing well; lobsters, crabs, oysters.” Reflective of this stability has been the introduction by Bouctouche Bay Industries Ltd. of New Brunswick of “OysterGro, “the complete farming system:” a floating apparatus coupled to a cage that accommodates six oyster bags (a “mini” version is available as well). The device is marketed by Bouctouche Bay and utilizes Riverdale’s “ocean-tough” Aquamesh.

So all these years after the breakthrough with its Aquamesh (built from high-grade premium steel that is hot dipped galvanized after welding) which was the first wire mesh in the world specifically engineered for ocean use, Riverdale’s aquaculture wire mesh is purposed across a much wider spectrum; for harvesting oysters, salmon, clams, trout, shrimp, tilapia, cod, catfish, sea bass, yellowtail, crawfish and cobia.

While Aquamesh may be the star of the show, Riverdale wire is surfacing seemingly everywhere. Its “Geomesh,” for instance, is used for construction projects like retaining walls, erosion control, bridge decks and earth dams and is “buried” on Rt. 146 as part of the overhaul of that highway, Mr. Knott said.

Meanwhile Riverdale’s “softer-on-the-feet” PVC-coated wire is helping satisfy the public’s demand for chickens that are raised infection-free. Its wire mesh for agricultural applications is also used for breeder nest boxes, egg roll outs, animal barriers, greenhouse shelves, compost bins and more. In January of 2015 the company earned the USDA-certified “BioPreferred Product Label” for its MarineMax wire coatings—the kind used in “SoftStep” wire mesh for the poultry industry.

MarineMax is made from renewable plant-based materials compounded with thermoplastic resins and a range of special additives for “an option that wasn’t available in the past,” Mr. Knott said. SoftStep came about when Riverdale engineers understood that there was a demand for safer and more sanitary flooring in breeder and broiler houses. Poultry farmers, Riverdale says, can expect “increased product durability and longevity, a decrease in rust and rot and improved manageability of bacteria levels” with SoftStep.

“It’s a proprietary product,” Mr. Knott said. “It was a solution looking for a problem.”

Still to be determined is whether Riverdale’s rugged “anti-cut, anti-climb, anti-ram” “WireWall” will be employed to curtail illegal immigration across any part of the 1900 miles between the U.S. and Mexico.

“The government has reissued deadlines” for design-build firms to submit their proposals three times, Mr. Knott said. “We’re working with many of them for our product with their design. It’s very heavy, 8-gauge with only a ½-inch by 3-inch opening, can’t be climbed or cut. Thirty miles of it is already in place between California, Arizona and New Mexico.”

The Trump Wall “is a metaphor for things that are going on in this country,” Mr. Knott said. “Any wall (that is eventually erected) would be a mix (of components) so to what extent we participate if at all remains to be seen.”

But, he noted, WireWall thirty feet high and sunk five feet into the ground has got to be an attractive choice, because “border patrol wants a see-through” product and “it would come at a lower cost to procure and erect. We are keeping a close eye on it. At this point in time it’s several months to a year out but we have two machines here that are capable of making this product.

“This would be a made-in-America product,” he said.

Contact Rod Lee at [email protected] or 774-232-2999.