US textile industry of southern states makes a huge comeback by generating $54 billion in shipments in 2012 and employed about 233,000 people. Business is on the upswing as Southern states, in particular, encouraged textile companies with tax breaks, reliable utilities, modern ports and airports and a dependable, trained and non union workforce. Decades after many people thought the textile industry was finished.
In 2013, companies in Brazil, Canada, China, Dubai, Great Britain, India, Israel, Japan, Korea, Mexico and Switzerland, as well as in the US, announced plans to open or expand textile plants in Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.
The workers produce yarn, thread and fabric for apparel, furnishings, home products and industrial use. Including Huggies and Pampers diapers, Swiffer mops and Pledge furniture wipes, according to David Rousse, president of the Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry.
Textiles manufacturing â€“ yarn, fabric, woven and nonwoven is still there and growing, said A. Blanton Godfrey, dean of the College of Textiles at North Carolina State University. They are selling cotton yarn cheaper than the Chinese.
Textiles, mostly cotton, once dominated the economy of the South. Employment peaked in June 1948 with 1.3 million jobs. In just one state, North Carolina, 40 percent of its jobs were in textile and apparel manufacturing in 1940. By 2013, just 1.1 percent of that stateâ€™s jobs were in textiles.
But rising wages in China and other countries, combined with higher transportation costs and tariffs, have prompted foreign and domestic companies to consider American manufacturing sites. Also, with more consumers looking for the â€œMade in the USAâ€ label, some companies are turning to American goods. Wal-Mart, for example, pledged last year to buy $50 billion over a decade in American-made products, among them towels and washcloths.
More than a third of all textile jobs were located in Georgia and North Carolina in 2012, and thatâ€™s where many of the jobs are being created. The new plants are nothing like the dusty, noisy mills of the past.
These highly automated plants require far fewer but more tech-savvy workers who earn higher pay than their forebears. The average textile wage in the US in 2012 was $37,900, compared with $60,496 for all manufacturing jobs. In North Carolina, the average textile wage was $33,219, up from $28,216 in 2002.
Another change in the industry is the growth of nonwovens, which are fibre-based products made of fabric thatâ€™s compressed, heated or tangled, like felt. Diapers and facial wipes, mops, medical scrubs and all kinds of filters are nonwovens. In the last decade, North Carolina has gained 1,945 jobs making nonwoven products and $719 million in nonwoven factory investment.
In North Carolina, nine textile firms announced plans in 2013 to build or expand plants in the state, creating 993 jobs and investing $381 million. Sharon Decker, the state secretary of commerce, cited three factors that helped her state win the new factories: culture, education and a competitive business climate.
North Carolina has a historically strong manufacturing base, in textiles especially, Decker said. The notion of a culture of textile manufacturing â€“ people know itâ€™s still there.
The state offered grants totalling $4.4 million to the nine textile companies to create jobs. The largest in the group is Gildan Activewear, a Canadian firm that has committed to invest $250 million and hire 500 workers. Gildan received a $3.5 million state Job Development Investment Grant, a cash grant based on actual job creation.
One challenge these days is getting young people interested in textile factory work as mill owner have started bringing middle school students in for tours to show them technologically advanced the facilities. Moreover, the state universityâ€™s textiles school also works with the business sector to help prepare workers for the new jobs is also a big reason for the revival of textile industry.
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