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Textile Industry Evolves
As It Contracts

Textiles, long a bellwether of manufacturing in North Carolina, has endured a virtual freefall since 2000 and the industry continues to evolve as it contracts through consolidations, closures and companies reinventing themselves. The state has seen numerous plant closings costing thousands of jobs over the past two years. Cheap apparel imports and the strength of the dollar are among the most-cited reasons for the downturn.
        Inconceivable to many in the industry is the fact that three of the state's largest textile companies -- Burlington Industries, Pillowtex and Guilford Mills -- find themselves under Chapter 11 protection.
        Most observers believe the industry will continue to shrink as commodity producers slowly exit or find profitable niches. Technical fabrics offer promise for some companies, but start-up costs are high and the segment, while growing, comprises only a small percentage of the industry. Guilford, once a specialist in fabric for swimwear, is now concentrating on automotive fabrics and high-tech constructions through its Guilford Technical Textiles division.
        Greensboro-based Cone Mills, the world's largest denim weaver, has undergone major restructuring over the past year and recently announced it had returned to profitability last quarter.
        New textile-related development in N.C. has been rare, but there was a significant announcement last December that Japan-based Viscotec Automotive Products, a maker of automotive fabrics, will locate a $50-million facility in Burke County which will create 200 jobs.
        Milt Gold is president of Amital Spinning in New Bern, which has remained profitable by aggressively pursuing a niche in production of yarn for acrylic throws and homefurnishings.
        "The only way a U.S. manufacturer can survive is to find a niche or specialty position," he says.
        Like the varying topography of the state itself, industry diversification is the key to the state's economic health, and as some industries shrink, others rise. North Carolina is now among the top 10 states in plastics industry production.
        The biotech sector continues to emerge with a new cluster blooming in the Piedmont Triad region. And bucolic Asheville has drawn the attention of the information technology industry. All look to benefit from the unique convergence of regions, climates and lifestyles that North Carolina represents.


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