Local News

Erwin's Recovery Continues Three Years After Denim Plant Closes

Posted August 1, 2003

— The town of Erwin used to be called the denim capital of the world. Three years after the town's major textile employer closed, residents are still trying to piece their lives together.

In November 2000, Swift Denim left Erwin for cheaper labor in Mexico.

"It was bad with this NAFTA thing. It's kind of getting everybody out of jobs, it seems like," former employee Kim Naylor said.

Naylor was one of 800 employees who lost their jobs. She found other work, but many others have not.

"You don't take people's jobs away from them and let them draw unemployment and them have their pride. We want our jobs back, that's what we want," Mayor George Joseph said.

Joseph has worked to attract new jobs -- Wal-Mart has expanded and Lowes will hire 170 employee when it comes to town.

Swift Denim's empty mills continue cast a shadow over the town Joseph hopes to fill with a big, new employer.

"Erwin will rebound. We're going to fight to get it back," he said.

The mayor blames U.S. free-trade policies and politicians who allow the policies to force more textile companies to leave.

"They took the 800 jobs. They should be made to give it back to us. It's their responsibility," he said.

Mexico may have the old jobs, but Erwin still has the memories and the will to survive.

"You know, it's a really nice town. I want to see it prosper," Jasper said.

Even though no denim is made there anymore, the town still plans to hold its annual Denim Days Festival in October.

Since 1989, closings and layoffs in the textile and apparel industries agve affected more than 100,000 people in North Carolina:

  • Wednesday, textile giant


    , of Kannapolis, announced the closing of 16 plants and 6,450 layoffs.

  • Monday, 526 people in


    found out their employer, V.F. Jeanswear, was letting them go. The company's Windsor plant is closing, laying off 366 employees.

  • Vance County's

    Harriet and Henderson Yarns

    threw in the towel on July 15, leaving 124 people out of work.

  • Catawba County lost 290 jobs in the spring when Gold Toe closed.
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