A U.S. flag-making company in Pennsylvania has been shut down since March 20, when Gov. Tom Wolf declared textile manufacturers to be “nonessential businesses.” Now a new decision has allowed that manufacturer to fulfill orders to provide American flags to mark the graves of U.S. military veterans, but production is still on hold due to the state lockdown orders.
FlagZone LLC, a U.S. flag manufacturer raised concern in recent weeks that it would not be able to fulfill orders for the Memorial Day tradition of honoring veteran graves with the flag. Now, thanks to pressure from veterans groups and state lawmakers, FlagZone president Daniel Ziegler told American Military News he had since won permission to distribute roughly 400,000 flags from the company’s factory in Gilbertsville, Penn., to fulfill orders in Berks County along with other counties in the state and in other states.
Without the exemption to fill the orders, Berks County Pennsylvania would not have been allowed to plant the roughly 53,000 flags it had ordered for 233 cemeteries, as a result of Wolf’s order, local newspaper Reading Eagle reported on May 5. Berks County had been limited, given its status as a “red” zone in the state, indicating the strongest lockdown provisions under Wolf’s lockdown orders.
“As the administration’s main priority is protecting the health and well-being of Pennsylvanians, flagmaking operations are thus deemed non-life-sustaining,” Casey Smith, communications director at the Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development said last week. “While FlagZone will unfortunately need to suspend its operations this year, we are hopeful that in the years to come, it will be able to continue to provide Pennsylvanians with a symbol of our patriotism for future Memorial Day celebrations.”
FlagZone had pressed for a waiver from the state for weeks, following Wolf’s closure order on March 20. On Monday, Ziegler said “with the help of the counties, and with the help of veterans groups and the help of our local legislators, we were able to get” permission to ship orders for the flags.
Ziegler credited the newly won permission to a campaign that pressured Wolf to relax restrictions for the flag orders after he said Wolf was “holding the U.S. flag hostage.” Now Ziegler said his company will at least be able to fill orders for Memorial Day on May 25, honoring U.S. service members who fell in the line of duty.
“We cannot open our production floor yet, but to me, this is a sign that we’re moving in the right direction,” Ziegler said.
Ziegler said the pressure was also on the state to allow his and other U.S. flag makers to fill orders, given that other flags are available on the market but are Chinese made.
Berks County Veterans Affairs director Ken Lebron said that the purchasing department would not be buying Chinese-made American flags if Flag Zone could not fulfill their order, as reported by Reading Eagle last week.
Ziegler, who is also the president of the Flag Manufacturers Association of America (FMAA) which represents U.S. manufacturers of the American flag, said other U.S. manufacturers of the American flag have also been impacted by shutdown orders.
“One member is located in Wisconsin and they were approved to make face masks,” Ziegler said, but that they weren’t allowed to also make flags.
Ziegler noted another member in Illinois had been shut down for about six weeks, due to local coronavirus lockdown orders. “They just reopened May 4th.” He also noted another member company in South Carolina has been able to remain open, but has seen its workforce reduced due to closure orders.
Ziegler said he feels his company can survive the shutdown, but that the lockdowns have heavily impacted flag makers as peak time for production begins in March and lasts through July, a time period already heavily interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.
As of Friday, Berks County remained in its “red” designation, while Wolf allowed 12 other counties to transition to a more relaxed set of “yellow” lockdown provisions, the Associated Press reported. Ziegler remained hopeful that Berks County would make the transition soon, and that Gov. Wolf does not extend lockdown orders, which are currently set to expire on June 4.
Ziegler said so long as his company is allowed to do business, it will be able to meet the demand for large orders of flags for Independence Day on July 4.