American workers might have made the mop you waltz around the kitchen floor, your favorite bath towel or your facial wipes. Surprised? Decades after many people thought the U.S. textile industry was dead, the industry generated $54 billion in shipments in 2012 and employed about 233,000 people.
Business is on the upswing as Southern states, in particular, woo textile companies with tax breaks, reliable utilities, modern ports and airports and a dependable, trained and nonunion workforce.
In 2013, companies in Brazil, Canada, China, Dubai, Great Britain, India, Israel, Japan, Korea, Mexico and Switzerland, as well as in the U.S., announced plans to open or expand textile plants in Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.
The workers produce yarn, thread and fabric for apparel, furnishings, home products and industrial use. Examples include Huggies and Pampers diapers, Swiffer mops and Pledge furniture wipes, according to David Rousse, president of the Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry.
“Textiles manufacturing – yarn, fabric, woven and nonwoven – is still here and growing,” said A. Blanton Godfrey, dean of the College of Textiles at North Carolina State University. “We’re selling cotton yarn cheaper than the Chinese.”
True, textile manufacturing in the U.S. dropped precipitously in the 1990s and 2000s as cheaper labor drew jobs overseas. Automation and increased productivity of textile mills also cost jobs. More than 200,000 textile manufacturing jobs have been lost to automation in the last decade.
Textiles, mostly cotton, once dominated the economy of the South. Employment peaked in June 1948 with 1.3 million jobs. In just one state, North Carolina, 40% of its jobs were in textile and apparel manufacturing in 1940. By 2013, just 1.1% of that state’s jobs were in textiles.
About 650 textile plants closed between 1997 and 2009, draining thousands of jobs and depressing communities.
But rising wages in China and other countries, combined with higher transportation costs and tariffs, have prompted foreign and domestic companies to consider American manufacturing sites. Also, with more consumers looking for the “Made in the USA” label, some companies are turning to American goods. Wal-Mart, for example, pledged last year to buy $50 billion over a decade in American-made products, among them towels and washcloths.
In North Carolina, nine textile firms announced plans in 2013 to build or expand plants in the state, creating 993 jobs and investing $381 million. Sharon Decker, the state secretary of commerce, cited three factors that helped her state win the new factories: culture, education and a competitive business climate.
South Carolina gave Keer a $4 million Rural Infrastructure Grant, and the county development corporation offered an additional $7.7 million bond to attract the company. Keer agreed to pay workers at least $13.25 an hour, the average manufacturing wage rate in Lancaster County.