Promoting Advanced Manufacturing in the Textile Industry

January 26, 2012
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Kim Glas is the deputy assistant secretary for textiles and apparel within the International Trade Administration’s Import Administration division.

The textile industry is alive and well here in the United States. I’ve spent several days this week with Francisco Sánchez, under secretary for international trade, in North Carolina touring two examples of textile industry manufacturing that represent the broad spectrum of the industry.

Francisco Sanchez, under sectetary of commerce for international trade, left, listens to plant manager Keith Nicholson, right, as he toured Parkdale plant 15 in Belmont on Wednesday morning. (John Clark/The Gazette)

Francisco Sanchez, under secretary of commerce for international trade, left, listens to plant manager Keith Nicholson, right, as he toured Parkdale plant 15 in Belmont on Wednesday morning. (John Clark/The Gazette)

During the past two years, increased demand for Parkdale’s diverse mix of high quality cotton, cotton blend, and polyester yarns has allowed the company to allocate more than $100 million on capital expenditures, creating nearly 1,500 jobs.

Parkdale hosted a unique industry panel of local textile representatives, to share with us the issues facing manufacturing, the importance of innovation for advanced textile manufacturing, and the importance of industry growth in jobs and exports.

The industry representatives included Polymer Group International (PGI), Unifi, Inc., Mount Vernon, Frontier Spinning, Pharr Yarns, Hanesbrands, VF Corporation, and the North Carolina Department of Commerce who are all very familiar with the changing face of textile and apparel production here in the United States.

Many people may not be aware that the United States is the second largest single country exporter of textiles, with $20 billion in exports in 2010. Businesses that contribute to this volume of exports range from small, family-owned and operated facilities to integrated mills that operate state of the art machinery and production equipment.

The textile and apparel industry provides the U.S. economy with a major source of employment and economic activity.  The industry is one of the largest employers in the manufacturing sector. Between 2009-2010, the U.S. textile and apparel exports grew 19 percent to $20 billion, and were up 14 percent through November of 2011.

North Carolina in particular has a high concentration of our textile industry. Many global leaders of the industry call North Carolina home. Freudenberg, the world’s largest producer of nonwovens, has two locations in the state, with its North American headquarters in Durham; Kimberly Clark, a vertically integrated manufacturer and converter of nonwoven products for the health and hygiene markets, with two manufacturing facilities; and PGI, one of the world’s leading companies in the hygiene, wipes, medical, industrial, and specialty markets with production operations in four locations in the state, with its headquarters in Charlotte.

There are more than 500 performance textile businesses located in 76 out of 100 counties across North Carolina. Performance textiles are fiber-based products that are valued for their technical function and properties as well as their aesthetics.

Our second tour was to see the future of textiles at North Carolina State College of Textiles. We toured the labs to see how technical advanced textiles are being used in aerospace, industrial, marine, medical, military, safety, and transportation. The global market for technical textiles was estimated to have a value of $93 billion in 2000 and expected growth is estimated at $127 billion in 2011.  There is huge expansion potential for this industry.

Advanced textile materials hold great potential for the U.S. textile industry, from textile heart filters, to textile composites used in airplane bodies, to highly flame resistant fabrics and clothing for soldiers, first responders and firemen – the United States is on the leading edge of new and innovative products and materials.

North Carolina State University’s College of Textiles “Centennial Campus”, is home to university colleges, departments, and research labs and also home to 61 industry and government partners who work with the university each day.  These partners are fully integrated into the university, working with faculty, students and staff.

Founded 113 years ago, the College of Textiles is the leading institution of its type with more than 2,000 graduate and undergraduate students.

The new Nonwovens Institute Partner Lab will revolutionize research and development in air, blood and water filtration and demonstrates the College’s close partnerships with leading companies throughout the world.  The Nonwovens Institute has more than 60 industry partners and is the largest industry-academic consortium in the United States.  These partners help drive the purpose-driven research taking place in the Nonwovens Institute and throughout the College of Textiles

It was a privilege to see both Parkdale Mills and the College of Textiles Centennial Campus in action. Meeting the students who are developing the future of the textile industry right here in North Carolina was a highlight of the trip. The current state of the textile industry is miles ahead of where it began and I look forward to the new innovations we will see in the near future.


  1. This is good news to hear. Unfortunately, the sister clothing and shoe industries are almost non-existent in the US and the furniture industry is apparently dying as well. Facts are – labor costs can kill competitively. Automation is the only solution. Specific to apparel and footwear – too many manual operations are too difficult to automate. As Chinese (and other asian countries) costs continue to rise, is it possible some of these industries can regroup?

  2. Anything we can do to encourage and support these manufacturers, we should be doing.

  3. The lessons from this article and comments seem to be that the U.S. textile industry is doing pretty well; that it is competitive, particularly in certain products like high performance and advanced materials; that it is a large and growing exporter; and that automation is an important element of improved competitiveness. If accurate, these points lead to certain conclusions. First, as this sector grows, it is unlikely to be a major generator of jobs. That point is readily apparent upon visiting any highly-automated mill. This is true in manufacturing as a whole – we can make ever more stuff with fewer and fewer people. Second, the types of jobs that will be in most demand in this sector are going to be high-skilled and technical – computer operators, engineers, chemists, etc. – not the traditional low-skilled, blue-collar factory worker. Third, if the textile industry is doing so well, is it not time for the U.S. government to stop trying to micro-manage this sector? In particular, the U.S. government has for decades employed rules – quotas, extraordinarily high tariffs, restrictive rules of origin, all requiring unique and onerous customs compliance and enforcement. Quotas are gone, but the U.S. government still employs many of these rules to shield the textile industry from import competition, to dictate to textile customers – apparel manufacturers, brands, and retailers – how they may manufacture a product, and try to force them to buy U.S. inputs (yarns and fabrics) whether or not it makes business sense to do so. After many years, it is clear that this system has not made the U.S. textile industry more competitive, does not create new jobs, does not promote new trade and investment, has imposed considerable and unnecessary costs on American consumers and other businesses, and is a failed trade policy. All this calls for a new approach in textile and apparel trade policy that a genuinely 21st Century model. This can be achieved by supporting all U.S. companies that compete in the international marketplace and create good U.S. jobs through global value and supply chains and providing superior service and products to customers in the domestic and export markets, and does not favor one industry stakeholder over others in this sector.

    • I remember not so long ago the textile industry insisted that when quotas were eliminated on imports, especially on imports from China, the industry would be decimated — indeed, that it would disappear. Well the quotas are all gone, and now I read above that “The textile industry is alive and well in here the United States.” Sounds like case of the proverbial boy who cried “wolf” which leads me, at least, to question continued wailing about how they will be hurt by future trade agreements that expose them to import competition.

  4. As international shipping consultants who deal with shipping to and from the USA we are frequently dealing with the textile industry. I cannot tell you how many questions we receive regarding international trade so you can be sure this site is a new resource that we will be sending our visitors to. Thanks for the info.

  5. This post is really surprising and contrary to what many believe. As most people think that the textile industry in the US mainly depends on imports from countries like China, India, Bangladesh, and now Vietnam who are cheap producers of clothing. Big brands like Diesel, Fubu, Gap and many more just source their garments from these countries. So, this is really an eye opener.

  6. I have worked with many companies that import and export textiles and will definitely forward them to this article. Thanks.

  7. Thats actually impressive that North Carolina has a textile manufacturing business in 76 counties in there state. I mean that 3 quarters of the state. Not many states have that.

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