Local News

North Carolina May Soon See Textile Turnaround

Posted June 15, 2004 1:50 a.m. EDT

— For the first time in 15 months, North Carolina has added textile jobs. Preliminary numbers show 400 new textile jobs in April. It is only the fifth monthly increase in 4½ years. Now, a company in Cary will use a multimillion-dollar federal grant to study ways to create more textile jobs.



in Cary, polo-style shirts are made in 13 minutes, as opposed to the usual eight to 10 days. Speed is one way American companies are working to compete with foreign plants that make products cheaper.

"If we can design system and processes that allow those products to be manufactured and delivered in a week or less, then we have huge opportunities to remain competitive in this industry," said Michael Fralix, president of [TC]2.

Fralix said the United States can compete in other ways as well. [TC]2 is developing digital printing for fabric and bodyscanning for custom clothes.

"We had the vision some time ago. If you really wanted to make custom garments accurately, you needed to be able to customize the fit," he said.

The technology is already being used by some retail stores and universities.

Amanda Haislet uses the technology as a senior at North Carolina State. She grew up around the textile industry in Asheboro. She has not let recent layoffs discourage her from getting a degree in textile engineering.

"It was like, 'Yeah, this is exactly what I want to do,' and I haven't thought twice about it," she said.

North Carolina State University has had to adapt to changes in the textile industry. It has become more specialized in marketing, research and product development.

The new research is creating new textile jobs each year. Haislet said she already has employment lined up for when she graduates in December. In fact, officials said 95 percent of textile students at N.C. State will have jobs when they graduate at an average starting salary in the low $40,000 range.

Free trade rules and cheap labor have added up to trouble for North Carolina's textile industry. The state has lost 88,000 textile jobs over the past 10 years.

Last year, the state lost 13,600 positions. Some of the biggest losses include: Pillowtex, with more than 4,000; Cone Mills lost 715 jobs; West Point-Stevens, in Roanoke Rapids, lost 320 jobs; Americal cut 286 jobs; Harriet Henderson lost 250 jobs; and Weavexx cut 133 jobs.