Getting industry into shipshape

Week of May 28, 2001

GTMA reminded of trade
impact on future hopes

By Ron Copsey

SAVANNAH, GA — While ocean-going container ships passed frequently by its hotel site, GTMA: The Association of Georgia’s Textile, Carpet and Consumer Products Manufacturers (GTMA) this month conducted its 101st annual meeting in this port city.

The meeting took place at The Westin Savannah Harbor Resort, a hotel completed just 14 months ago. It is located on Hutchinson Island, created by a split in the Savannah River. The hotel is on the river front and faces downtown Savannah. The parade of overseas shipping in front of the hotel, perhaps, was a reminder to GTMA members of the influence of international trade on domestic textile products.

More than 200 industry executives and their guests attended the three-day event. In addition to several nationally known speakers, the conference included the 58th annual meeting of GTMA’s affiliate, The Textile Education Foundation (TEF).

Perhaps as a not-so-subtle reminder of the influence of international trade on domestic textile products, a container ship labeled “China Shipping Line” heads upriver to the landing dock as it passes The Westin Savannah Harbor Resort hotel, where GTMA members are gathered.

GTMA Chairman Frank Andrusko, president and CEO of American Fibers and Yarns, opened the first business session with the chairman’s annual address. He reiterated earlier published reports about the industry’s need to change now, not some time in the future.

He selected the meeting theme “The Future is Now” to reinforce the idea that action must be taken quickly for companies to not only survive but prepare for year 2005, when textile trade quotas will disappear.

“What has and will continue to distinguish the U.S. textile industry are three things: quality; innovation; and productivity, but that is not enough — you must find niche markets and not try to be all things to all people,” he said.

He predicted China will enter the World Trade Organization (WTO), but that U.S. textile companies can compete with the Far East by developing, through electronic commerce, much faster deliveries.

Michael Colopy, president of the International Commerce Consultants of Falls Church, VA, delivered the keynote address during the first business session. As a nationally-known authority on China, Colopy indicated that China’s 5,000 year culture has strong continuity and that present-day China has an obsession with unification.

However, Colopy said China has many minority groups and there are even those who oppose China’s entry into the WTO because they see it as colonial exploitation.

“There is no strong desire in China to be democratic like us, but they do wish to prevent chaos, violence and disruption,” Colopy said. “Pressures to pull China apart come from within the country which includes some dissents within the military.”

He indicated that Japan and other Far East countries have invested heavily in China in order to take advantage of its low-cost sourcing opportunities. However, Colopy reported that there is a high rate of piracy in the South China Sea. “Container ships just disappear,” he said.

Colopy said that China is very technology savvy and it is adding computers rapidly. “Ten years from now, China will have more computers than the United States,” he said. “The country with the largest population on earth is changing fast.”

He also said that only 8 percent of China’s population lives below the 8,000 foot level, a reflection of the mountainous terrain of the country.

In the news ...

Week of May 28, 2001

Ga. Tech’s Cook to step aside

ATLANTA — After serving 14 years as chair of Georgia Tech’s School of Textile and Fiber Engineering, Dr. Fred L. Cook announced plans to step aside and return to full-time teaching.

Cook, who said “the timing is right” for new leadership, will continue chairing the school until a successor is named.

“Fourteen years is a long time to hold a single administrative job in academia,” he said. “With the school currently undergoing a long-range planning process to re-engineer the unit as to degrees, missions, etc., the timing is right to bring new leadership and energies to the task.”

Cook made it known to College of Engineering Dean Jean Lou Chameau and faculty a few years ago that he would like to step aside when the Georgia Tech Capital Campaign concluded, the school said.

With Cook at the helm, the school raised $10.1 million during the campaign, which concluded during a campus-wide celebration April 20.

“Under Fred’s leadership, the School of Textile and Fiber Engineering has emerged as the nation’s leading institution in educating first-class engineers for the textile industrial complex,” Chameau said. “Fred’s ability to recruit strong faculty members played a major role in this success.”

Jobs to be lost as PCCA boosts denim production

LUBBOCK, TX — Plains Cotton Cooperative Association (PCCA) announced that it will significantly increase its presence in the U.S. denim market by boosting production capacity 30 percent, effective early July, to better serve current and future denim customers.

The expansion will be accomplished by adding jobs at the cooperative’s American Cotton Growers (ACG) denim mill at Littlefield, TX, and converting all production to denim at its Mission Valley Fabrics (MVF) mill in New Braunfels, TX.

The conversion, however, will cost PCCA 370 jobs, or about 60 percent of its work force in New Braunfels and at its Mission Valley sales offices.

The resulting capacity will be about 52 million linear yards of denim annually, or about 10 percent of U.S. denim manufacturing capacity.

Celanese to lay off 500

FRANKFURT, GERMANY — German chemicals company Celanese AG made it official on May 15, announcing that it would slash 445 jobs at an acetate filament production facility and a truck terminal in Rock Hill, SC.

The company originally announced the cuts in December 1999, but re-evaluated the decision in October. After the study, Celanese said it would proceed with its earlier plans and consolidate filament production in Rock Hill with its Narrows, VA, plant, where the company said it will invest in state-of-the art technology. The Rock Hill plant will continue to manufacture acetate flake and employ about 250 people, Celanese said.

The company said it will eliminate about 55 more jobs company-wide, representing a total work force reduction of 3.8 percent.

Cone Mills to trim 14% of work force

GREENSBORO, NC — Denim maker Cone Mills said May 16 that it will cut 575 jobs, mostly in North Carolina, in its continuing battle to overcome low-cost Asian imports and return to sustained profitability.

The move, part of what it calls its “Reinvention Plan,” comes after the company lost $2.9 million in the first quarter and follows a 40 percent work force reduction in 1999.

The majority of the cuts will come in Rutherford County, where 392 people at four plants will be pink-slipped within three months. The ax will fall on 132 here, including 60 at the corporate level, while the balance of layoffs will come from South Carolina plants in the company’s Decorative Fabrics Group and sales and marketing positions throughout the U.S.

When the dust settles, the manufacturer will employ about 1,300 people. The latest reductions represent about 14 percent of Cone’s current work force.

Dyersburg cuts 1,000 NC jobs

CHARLOTTE, NC — Citing general economic trends and increased competition from abroad, Dyersburg Corporation announced May 16 that it is closing North Carolina plants in Lumberton and Elizabethtown, eliminating about 1,000 jobs.

The changes took effect immediately, said the maker of circular knit fleece, jersey and stretch knit fabrics. Dyersburg said it will consolidate its textile manufacturing operations to two facilities. All knitting operations will be merged into its Clinton, NC, plant, while its dyeing and finishing operations will be moved to Dyersburg, TN. The company also said it intends to sell its stretch division, United Knitting.

Texas Tech to be first in U.S. to house Fehrer needle loom

GREENVILLE, SC — Batson Yarn and Fabrics Machinery Group reported the recent sale of a Fehrer H1 Technology Needlepunch Loom, fed by William Tatham carding and cross lapping machinery, to Texas Tech University of Lubbock, TX.

This equipment is to be used in a project led and developed by Dr. Seshadri Ramkumar of the International Textile Center at Texas Tech and sponsored by the Department of Defense, to develop protective fabrics. The Nonwoven Laboratory at the International Textile Center will be the first facility in the U.S. to house the state-of-art H1 Technology needle loom.

According to Fehrer, the principle of the H1 technology is the idea that superior web properties can be obtained by oblique angled needle penetration. This is achieved by means of an asymmetrically curved needling zone and straight needle movement.

Editorial

Week of May 28, 2001

May we not have another month like this?

AH, MAY ...

... is it over yet? We’re afraid to check. Let’s see ... sez here it’s May 28. That means we still have four days left in this month made for flowers and mothers. And that may be appropriate, in a morose sort of way: We’ve seen our share of black roses lately and this month has been, well, a “mother.”

With no disrespect to our military men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice, it seems befitting that today’s pontificating is being published on Memorial Day. Why, consider the utter decimation of textile and apparel jobs that this Maddening May has wrought:

• Spartan International is forced by a lender to close its doors, displacing 1,200 in three states (May 4);
• Fab Industries says it will close two plants, trimming about 150 jobs (May 8);
• CMI Industries announces the closing of its remaining greige fabrics operations in Clinton, SC, leaving about 600 out of work (May 9);
• Knitting machine maker Vanguard Supreme says it will oust about 70 employees (May 15);
• Chemicals company Celanese says it will slash 445 jobs in Rock Hill, SC (May 15);
• Pillowtex says it will lay off 780 in two closings and a consolidation (May 16);
• Cone Mills says it will cut 575 jobs, mostly in NC (May 16); and
• Fabric maker Dyersburg Corporation announces the closing of two plants, eliminating about 1,000 jobs (May 16).
By our calculations, that’s nearly 4,820 people out of work. Ouch.

IF APRIL is the cruelest month, then May is her evil step-sister, at least as far as this domestic industry is concerned. In a year that has seen an acceleration of shake-outs, this fifth month of the Gregorian calendar has been especially brutal to an industry already reeling from imports, unfair competition and a stagnant economy.

Lately, it’s been difficult to pick up the newspaper or check the wires, what with all of the Big Headlines announcing the latest cutbacks, consolidations or closings. Every week, we’re seeing our little world fall apart around us, piece by piece. An industry that has taken years to assemble is taking mere months to dismantle.

So sad. These fine men and women who we’ve worked with for years are suddenly left wondering from where their next paycheck will come. These folks who have made our companies strong are now relegated to the growing ash heap of textile industry has-beens. And, in some cases, companies that were once titans in the industry are now simply empty shells of their former selves.

When will the madness end? Who’s to say. The textile earth is still rumbling and more after-shocks are expected. We’re stranded now and, perhaps, only Washington can save us.

Mayday! Mayday!