As

DuPont Co.

weighs plans to shed more facilities and contractors on the eve of its proposed marriage to

Dow Chemical

, its Delaware neighbor

W.L. Gore & Co.

, the $3 billion (in yearly sales) family- and worker-owned company that makes high-end

Gore-Tex

fabric, is raising its profile.

The 58-year-old company, with 10,000 staff members worldwide, makes light polymer fabric layers it guarantees are waterproof while letting sweat and steam pass through.

Gore and DuPont, which is 10 times larger, have long hired each other's people, benefiting from the region's deep chemical expertise.

But DuPont's recent shrinkage of its Wilmington research and management groups have been to Gore's particular benefit. Recent Gore hires include Patrick Lindner, former president of DuPont Performance Materials, and David Rurak, former senior director at DuPont Protection Technologies, among others.

On Thursday, the firm opened its doors to military, outdoor, industry, and retail writers from several nations to show off its new testing lab and environmental chamber.

Four times larger than Gore's previous lab, it roasts, freezes, and blows products and ideas with high-altitude and furnacelike heat, killing cold, and blowing sheets of water, next to a Gore factory just across the state line in rural Cecil County, Md.

Gore works from a science-based culture. "Our product does what we say it does. Everyone else is just out there making claims," boasts Christian Langer, Fabrics Division leader. "But we can actually prove it."

As a private company, Langer says, Gore is free to focus on firming "long-term" partnerships with the manufacturers and retailers who use Gore-Tex materials - including familiar retail names such as Adidas, Nike, North Face, Patagonia, Timberland, and dozens more.

"I compare it to a marriage: You have to have common values and principles, otherwise it doesn't work out," he says.

Gore uses its test results and other "thermal, psychological, ergonomic and sensorial-aesthetic" factors in personal-gear design, said global technical leader Matthew Decker. Acoustic techs study the sound fasteners make and their effect on users. There's a behavioral scientist on staff.

Sometimes, less is more, said Shawn Riley, group technical leader. Firefighters complain of being "horribly overprotected," to the point where heavy gear slows them, heats them, and limits their vision. Gore offers to help design "the right protection in a comfortable package," shows how it performs, and tells cities and corporate fire departments it's worth spending extra, compared with the injury costs.

Emily Oliver, head of Global Distinctive Capabilities, confirmed that the company is looking at "smartwear" applications that will allow clothes to communicate with users, servers, and other clothes.

She and her colleagues wouldn't say what these wearables will do, or look like, or even how much the new labs cost.

Embedding sensors "takes a pretty good amount of R&D," Oliver said. Users are excited by the possibilities. But "it will take some time for the science to catch up."