Massachusetts-based AIS, the largest manufacturer of commercial office furniture and seating in New England, has been named to the Inc. 2021 Best in Business list and received a silver medal in the 2nd annual awards program’s manufacturing category.
The list, which can be found in the winter issue of Inc. magazine (on newsstands Dec. 14), recognizes small- and medium-size privately held American businesses that have had an outstanding influence on their communities, their industries, the environment or society as a whole in the past 12 months.
More than 2,700 businesses submitted applications to this year’s awards program. AIS was among the 147 companies to be named to the prestigious 2021 Inc. Best in Business list.
“AIS is so honored to receive this recognition,” AIS Co-Founder and CEO Bruce Platzman said. “I’m very proud of our team of more than 800 people who, during this particularly difficult year, met unexpected challenges with incredible courage, commitment and hard work. Together, we pivoted to produce products that helped organizations and communities during the COVID-19 pandemic while fortifying the critical importance of manufacturing within our region’s economy.”
Deemed an essential employer by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, AIS was a leader in battling the pandemic regionally and across the nation. Within weeks, the company had converted its seating manufacturing line inside its Leominster, Massachusetts-based headquarters into a mask-making powerhouse. AIS also launched a nationwide mask-making program called Sew the Masks. Another area of AIS’s 600,000 square-foot facility was converted into a manufacturing and shipping production line for screens to support social distancing. Additional products and services were launched to help people and organizations navigate new realities brought about by the pandemic.
Building on the momentum of the Sew the Masks program and AIS’s long history of supporting local businesses, AIS focused on accelerating the return of the New England economy. Dubbed, ReNew England, AIS has taken the concept of “buy local” to a corporate level and is spearheading a campaign to encourage regional companies to join forces and help accelerate New England’s recovery from the economic turmoil caused by the pandemic.
“Bruce and I started AIS in 1989 because we saw a need for quality, well-designed, affordable furniture, delivered quickly. This business model and work ethos has served us well through the years but never more so than during the challenging times brought about by the pandemic,” AIS Co-Founder and Chairman Arthur Maxwell said. “We’re proud of what our team has achieved, both as a company and for the larger community and industry, and we’re grateful for the Inc. recognition.”
Inc.’s editors reviewed applicants’ achievements over the past year and noted how they made a positive difference in the world. They then selected honorees in nearly 50 different industries – from finance to software to engineering to fashion, and more. The applicant pool for the awards program was extremely competitive.
“What began for us during the pandemic as an effort to showcase companies that were helping the community has grown into a recognition of social, environmental and economic impact,” Inc. Editor in Chief Scott Omelianuk said. “The companies on this year’s list are changemakers with heart – and they’re pouring the best of their business into the people and communities around them.”
WORK DURING THE HEIGHT OF THE PANDEMIC
Early in the pandemic, in response to supply chain issues resulting in a shortage of face coverings, AIS quickly produced and donated thousands of face masks to first responders and frontline workers throughout New England. As the country’s shortage of face masks continued to grow, AIS increased production and distribution, and then established the nationwide Sew the Masks initiative based on World War II icon Rosie the Riveter. Partnering with the United Way of North Central Massachusetts (UWNCM) in this effort, the company activated internal production lines and close to 1,000 volunteers ‘Rosies’ in 45 states to create masks at their home sewing machines for donation and distribution to first responders, frontline workers and other people in need.
With the help of the Rosies and in collaboration with UWNCM, AIS fulfilled 100% of requests for masks from all corners of the country. The not-for-profit program ultimately provided more than $3 million worth of high-quality masks to more than a half million people and over 500 organizations in nearly every state. AIS was recognized on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives by Massachusetts Congressman James McGovern for the Sew the Masks program.
“Our AIS sewers at our factory in Massachusetts, combined with our team of nationwide Rosies, along with our local United Way, were the heartbeat of the project in the fight against the spread of COVID-19,” Platzman said.
AIS also rapidly manufactured and shipped more than 150,000 Lexan screens for essential employers and personnel including first responders, hospitals, medical suppliers, government agencies, biotech firms, IT companies, customers and others around the country.
As demand for dividers increased, AIS also expanded its product portfolio with PET screens. Made from Polyethylene Terephthalate, a form of polyester made from plastic bottles, this environmentally friendly and lightweight material offered yet another solution for dividing space.
During the crisis, AIS continued to manufacture and ship its core product – office furniture – to support the operational needs of essential companies, local, state and federal agencies, and other critical providers and suppliers. AIS also strategically introduced additional products and programs designed to help its dealers navigate the new reality in the wake of the pandemic, including desks that meet social distancing requirements and a quick-ship program to get products to end users as fast as possible.
“As a lean, fast-paced organization in an industry that typically has a lengthy design process and product implementation timeline, we were purposeful as we adapted to market conditions and consumer needs,” AIS President Nick Haritos said.
This rapid deployment of the company’s resources helped to propel the furniture manufacturing industry into the spotlight as many other industries began to recognize the commercial furniture industry as a major contributor of the tools needed to contain the coronavirus.
Despite obstacles related to the pandemic, and the allocation of considerable resources to the manufacture of masks and screens, AIS exceeded industry performance. While the office furniture industry saw an overall decrease of 23.4% in revenue (according to BIFMA), AIS experienced just a 5.8% reduction in sales compared to 2019, with 2020 sales of $212 million.
In recognition of AIS’s pandemic response, MassEcon – the state’s private-sector partner in promoting business growth in Massachusetts – named AIS a Local Impact Corporate Hero.
WORK WITH RENEW ENGLAND
Building on the momentum of Sew the Masks and AIS’s long history of supporting local businesses, AIS focused on accelerating the return of the New England economy. Dubbed, ReNew England, AIS has taken the concept of “buy local” to a corporate level and is spearheading a campaign to encourage regional companies to join forces and help New England recover from the economic turmoil caused by the pandemic.
ReNew England is designed to expedite economic growth across the region by buying and sourcing locally. Grounded in the multiplier-effect principle and reinforcing the premise that buying locally and regionally can accelerate the rebound of a region’s economy, this initiative is gaining considerable support.
“AIS has always sourced local suppliers as much as possible – and we’ve doubled down on efforts to do so. Our purchases have generated an estimated 2,720 jobs throughout our region through our up- and down-stream suppliers,” Platzman said.
Additionally, AIS has continued to hire new workers, adding more than 150 employees in the past 12 months. More than 300 women work at AIS’s Leominster location. In total, the company employs over 800 people whose backgrounds represent 32 countries, making AIS one of the most diverse employers in Massachusetts. The company is the largest manufacturer and employer in Leominster.
“We’re growing, hiring and proud to be a Massachusetts-based manufacturer,” Haritos said, “and we’re gratified to receive the Inc. award, which reinforces the work that we’re doing within our communities and across the industry.”
The full list of 2021 Inc. Best in Business honorees for gold, silver, bronze and general excellence across industries and categories are featured online at https://www.inc.com/best-in-business/2021.
To learn more about AIS, visit http://www.ais-inc.com.
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