SKOWHEGAN — They make dog collars with a “no fly zone” to ward off insects and they make Dog Not Gone pet visibility vests for L.L. Bean. They also make American flags, hospital cubicle curtains and hotel draperies.

They are Bill and Julie Swain of Kingfield, owners of Maine Stitching Specialties, and in a week or so they will own the former Dirigo Stitching factory near downtown Skowhegan, the building the company already operates out of.

There are 11 people employed in the three-story plant and there could be 20 employees by the end of the year, Bill Swain says.

“We may need to hire some new people sooner than later,” he said. “We’re close to getting to the point where we need more help.”

The Swains are ready to close on $210,000 in personal financing to match a $210,000 federal Community Development Block Grant, which comes from a federal Department of Housing and Urban Development program designed to help economically challenged areas and is administered by the state. Private financing will pay for the 45,000-square-foot building and about 100 pieces of stitching-related machinery, cutting tables and other equipment that had belonged to Dirigo.

Grant money will be used for more equipment and working capital for a logistics person to do preproduction and cutting work, as well as hiring a marketing and sales manager.

Maine Stitching Specialties was already making Dog Not Gone visibility products at the Dirigo factory, and when Dirigo’s owner, Peter Schultz, retired last fall the Swains agreed to buy the building providing they received the $210,000 grant. The Swains are matching the federal money with their own financing.

Swain said he and Julie, who is the company’s chief financial officer and bookkeeper, needed the extra space to expand their dog visibility products, which they sell to outdoor outfitters such as L.L. Bean and Orbus. They also are taking on the business Dirigo Stitching had left – hotel draperies and cubicle curtains.

“The sky is the limit – our pet products line is poised for rapid growth – we’re expecting to double sales this year,” Swain said. “We’re on the cusp of some large customers. If these large customers come through, we’re going to need a lot more help.”

Skowhegan’s economic and community development director Jeff Hewett said with the expansion, the company will be one of the largest manufacturing businesses in town. Genplex, which makes plastic tubing and pipe, has been in business in Skowhegan for about 15 years and now has 13 employees.

Maine Wood Heat,which makes portable wood-fired ovens, moved to Skowhegan in 2011 with four employees and a couple of machine shops, Hewett said.

New Balance Athletic Shoe employs about 320 people at its Skowhegan factory. The company has been in Skowhegan since taking over the Medwed Footwear factory in 1982.

“It gives us that much more variety of manufacturing here in town, which is what we always strive to get – more of a variety of businesses,” Hewett said of Maine Stitching. “This one company actually deals with productions from a lot of different areas of the state and hopefully it will attract other businesses here, too.”

FINISH LINE IN SIGHT

Redington-Fairview General Hospital in Skowhegan is a customer for Maine Stitching’s new line of snap-together cubicle curtains for hospitals and nursing homes. The company also makes draperies for hotels and American flags, and besides the dog vests, it makes collars, dog-collar kerchiefs, chest protectors and leashes.

“We really want to see Skowhegan, as a community as a whole, thrive,” Swain said. “We really like it here and we’re hoping we can make a small contribution to maintaining and improving the community.”

Swain said most of the fabric material used in the pet products is manufactured to repel ticks and other insects – hence the No Fly Zone name.

Dog Not Gone safety vests, begun in Kingfield 10 years ago, are products that were designed by hunters for dogs, horses and other domestic animals as a simple and effective way to keep animals from being mistaken for game, he said. Dog Not Gone, technically, is a separate company owned by the couple, and a customer of Maine Stitching.

Swain said that shortly after they created the vest, L.L. Bean bought it and put it in its hunting catalog.

The company also sells the Dog Not Gone products to a company that distributes the line from the Mid-Atlantic states north and west to Ohio and also sells to Orbus, another national outdoor retailer. L.L. Bean also sells the company’s non-hunter dog vest, which is made in a “dusty olive” color.

Swain grew up in Pennsylvania, and Julie Swain grew up in Duxbury, Massachusetts. They met after he became communications director at Sugarloaf Ski Resort.

Swain said it is exciting to expand the business in a factory that operated for many years in Skowhegan. Some of the employees have worked in the building for 30 years or more.

Keeping that building occupied is also keeping the “Made in America” brand growing strong, he said.

“It’s been a long process to get to this point,” Swain said. “Knowing that the finish line is in sight, we’re really getting excited about it.”