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The Comeback Kid: Textiles Are Returning Stateside

Rising wage and energy costs overseas and American consumers’ demand for ethical and sustainable sourcing of products are among the factors driving the reshoring of the textile industry to the U.S.

Q1 2019
Area Development sat with Beth Land, vice president of Industrial & Economic Development at Site Selection Group, to discuss the textile industry’s U.S. comeback on the heels of her presentation on the same topic at our Women in Economic Development Forum. Interview conducted by Margy Sweeney, Founder and CEO, Akrete, Inc. and Area Development Editorial Board member.
After decades of textile manufacturers leaving the United States or outsourcing operations overseas, the industry seems to be making a stateside comeback. Global and domestic economic factors, as well as American consumer expectations, have certainly impacted the industry’s inclination toward U.S. facilities. With this sea change comes the need for new or expanded textile facilities for today’s advanced manufacturing. What companies in the textiles business should know is that economic developers are eager to support and encourage this industry throughout the country.

Why Are Textiles Coming Back to the United States?
One of the main factors enticing textiles back to the United States is the “America First” attitude promoted by the Trump administration. It’s being enacted through policies such as tariffs on countries like China, where a lot of textiles are currently manufactured.

Additionally, consumers are becoming more socially conscious and pressuring brands to source and manufacture products more ethically and sustainably. Those ideals are more achievable in the U.S. environment with more labor protections and environmental regulations.

More tangibly, wages and electricity rates are rising in China — making U.S. wages seem relatively more affordable and our electricity a real bargain. Rising shipping costs are also making importing more expensive than exporting, so manufacturers now see an opportunity to reduce production costs and avoid international tariffs by manufacturing in the United States.

Finally, the highly educated workforce with advanced skillsets poised for innovation has been enticing manufacturers back to United States. Like other manufacturing sectors, textile manufacturing increasingly demands skilled labor that is not always available elsewhere in the world.

What Textile Firms Should Look for in a New Community
As textile firms begin to return to the United States and eventually relocate or expand, site selectors should consider the following aspects of a prospective location:
  • Workforce ready for innovation. Automation in textiles — like “sewbots” that can accomplish complex tasks previously reserved for skilled hand-sewing — means some jobs are eliminated, but the jobs new and familiar are often based on innovative technologies and materials. Locating near a major research university or universities with textile engineering programs ensures that the incoming workforce is up to the challenge.
  • Infrastructure for sustainability. The textile industry requires an immense amount of water to produce materials. Be sure to ask your economic developer partner about the water treatment facilities in the communities you’re considering, to ensure that the water effluent is processed safely.
  • Access to transportation infrastructure. With fast fashion dominating the general consumer’s closet, many apparel manufacturers execute 24 to 26 design phases annually — about six times as many as in the recent past. Sourcing and distributing resources and products on this extreme schedule, as well as delivering online orders to U.S. consumers, has increased speed-to-market demands — necessitating reliable access to ground transportation infrastructure.
  • Low energy costs. As textiles move more in the direction of advanced manufacturing and technology-enabled design, affordable energy is essential for a highly productive and efficient factory. States and cities with low energy and electricity costs can help improve margins.
And, while many companies are locating to Southeast and Northeast U.S. regions that already have a history as textile epicenters, almost any community with a history of manufacturing can support textiles as the industry shifts toward advanced manufacturing. Luckily, the United States offers many opportunities for return of the textile industry.

Editor's Note:Area Development’s Women in Economic Development Forum featured a presentation on the textile industry’s U.S. comeback by Beth Land, vice president of Industrial & Economic Development at Site Selection Group. The preceding were some key topics from Land’s presentation and subsequent interview as compiled by Jennifer Harris, Area Development contributor, Akrete, Inc.

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