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Foreign Competition Changing the Fabric of N.C. Textile Towns

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DUNN — An American tradition is coming to an end, and with it, thousands of American jobs.

Burlington Industriesannounced Tuesday it will close seven factories, five in North Carolina. The company says it can no longer compete with cheap foreign imports.

The Burlington plant in Oxford employs 450 people and has been open for 39 years. People at the plant will be let go over the next couple of months.

When plants in small towns close down, the entire community is affected. For many people, that next job is not just around the corner. No job means no money. And businesses around the plant feel it.

Two small Harnett County towns are in the same boat as Oxford. The closings have a trickle-down effect that can kill a community.

"It's kind of stressful actually, not knowing if you can find something you can comfortably live by with what you're used to living with," says Champion Products employee Deborah Sargeant.

Sargeant is one of 400 Champion textile plant workers who will be out of work in March, when the company closes its plant inDunn.

"Losing four hundred jobs really hurts us," says Dunn Mayor Abe Elmore.

Elmore says it's too early to tellhowmuch the layoffs will hurt the city which once thrived on textiles jobs. Since NAFTA, hundreds of those jobs have moved overseas.

"We don't need to be exporting jobs," says Elmore. "We hate that it happened in our community, but you read it's happening everywhere."

In 1980 there were 400,000 textiles jobs in North Carolina. Today there are 300,000.

Lennie Burton, N.C. State University placement director, still thinks prospects in the industry are solid.

"We had 74 companies come here to interview last year. So when things are bad with one company there are others that are having a good year," says Burton.

Deborah Sargeant doesn't share that optimism. She's looking for work in another industry.

"You've got that fear that if you do go into it again, a year or two down the road, you'll be right where you started," says Sargeant.

NAFTA may have cost some North Carolina workers their jobs, but it will also help them find new ones. The companies are required to pay for re-training and help in the job search.