The US textile and apparel industry is showing signs of expansion and many factories are competing with low-wage operations in countries like China after decades of decline. In North Carolina, once a dominant textile hub, the industry has reinvented itself using technology but also employing far fewer workers than in the past.
At the National Spinning Company plant in Burlington, North Carolina robots do most of the heavy lifting and the factory dyes over 110,000 kg of yarn per week in a variety of colours. The yarn is sent to clothing and upholstery makers both in the US and around the world. Only two technicians service the dye producing machines, said Michael Hankensen, one of them.
He further added, "As you see, most of this is extremely heavy, cumbersome, and trying to move it around in the order that these robots do it, it would take an army of men to accomplish what these robots do".
While technology is helping bridge the wage gap between labour-intensive factories outside US that pay workers only a few dollars a day, the North Carolina plant employing 100 employees each making between US$10-20 an hour.
Ed Atkins, plant manager stated that it is important to limit labour costs but the company must also provide higher quality and better customer service to compete in the global market place. "We have diversified ourselves, looked for markets that depended on the quick response that you can provide from American-made products, little niche market. I mean we donâ€™t try to compete in the generic cotton business or anything like that, because itâ€™s not our strength," Atkins added.
The collapse earlier this year of a garment factory in Bangladesh that killed more than 1,000 workers illustrated the tragic consequences of relying on partners that bring down costs by sacrificing health and safety.
Deborah Wince-Smith, president of the non-profit Council on Competitiveness, believes that the future of the textile industry lies in innovation, not low wages. Companies and enterprises are really bringing their core activities to where they have a skilled workforce, where they have innovation talent and where theyâ€™re actually able to develop the next generation of innovation that drives manufacturing.
Only 23 plants, that came up in US in the last three years, exports over 30 percent. This is apparently a major comeback for the textile industry in America.
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