ColorWorks employees meeting the challenge of COVID-19

John Thompson • Updated Apr 29, 2020 at 11:47 PM

ELIZABETHTON — Billy Lyons and C.J. Rainbolt have a good reason to be tired.

Over the past month they’ve worked many 14-hour and 16-hour days and six-day weeks at their job at the ColorWorks plant in the Watauga Industrial Park.

But the men aren’t complaining.

They’re proud that they can play a role in helping the nation’s healthcare workers in the nationwide effort to contain the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

“We are glad we have a way to help our country during a time like this,” said Rainbolt. “It is an honor that we can help keep safe the people who are on the front lines in fighting this virus.”

ColorWorks is small plant of about 110 workers who dye and finish fabrics: Company President Sam Buchanan said nearly all the fabric that becomes the nation’s military parachutes comes through the Elizabethton facility.

But that effort has been dwarfed recently by the huge orders for treating nylon and other fabrics that will be dyed and finished at ColorWorks before going to other factories to be sewn into personal protective gowns and other equipment.

The work done at ColorWorks not only provides the fabric with the exact colors specified for the various jobs, but such important finishes as making the fabric waterproof.

As the pandemic has grown, the amount of fabric that ColorWorks has dyed and treated has kept pace, said ColorWorks spokeswoman Shay Mullins. The workers have been shipping out as much as 200,000 square yards per week, and the state of New York has just placed an order for another 100,000 square yards per week. Lyons, a shift leader, said the workers know how important the increase in demands are and work to meet those demands.

This is certainly one of the most historic times in the history of ColorWorks, which has been in business in Elizabethton since the 1970s. In addition to meeting the demands caused by the pandemic, the company has also undergone an acquisition. In 2020, Mullins said, ColorWorks was bought by Ocean States Innovations, a Rhode Island company.

She said the change has gone smoothly.

“The were our customers before they bought us,” Mullins said.

The benefits of the acquisition can be seen in the number of orders coming from the Northeast and states like Rhode Island, New York, and other New England states.

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