- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The American Fibers and Yarns Co. had laid off about 400 workers during the past five years, a common story among textile manufacturers struggling with foreign, especially Chinese, competition.

But the Chapel Hill, N.C., company this year is expanding production and adding 25 to 30 jobs at a factory in Georgia, a slight uptick that reflects an industry that after years of sharp decline may be steadying.

“Now that our competitors have either exited the yarn business or gone out of business all together, I end up having to add some jobs back,” said Michael Apperson, president and chief executive of the 500-employee company.

“So what I think you are seeing across the board is an industry consolidation that is starting to play out,” he said.

The U.S. textile and apparel industry added 2,600 jobs in November and December last year, and factory output stabilized, Labor Department and Federal Reserve data show.

It is a tiny addition to an industry that shed 787,600 jobs, almost 55 percent of its work force, from December 1995 to December 2005. But trade groups say it is a sign that the companies spinning yarn, weaving fabric and sewing clothes still have life left in them.

“It sends the message that this is not a dying industry,” said Cass Johnson, president of the National Council of Textile Organizations, a Washington trade group.

Mr. Johnson said American producers won a reprieve as the Bush administration, at the industry’s request, imposed quotas on a range of Chinese-made goods, and then in November struck a deal to limit imports on 30 product lines for three years.

U.S. manufacturers complain that China competes unfairly by manipulating its currency, abusing the environment and paying workers poorly.

“The agreement put the most unfair player in the corner for a while. [It] made importers realize they couldn’t shift everything to China, so it brought some jobs back,” Mr. Johnson said.

Importers, who have resisted efforts to limit trade with China, dispute the analysis, noting that two months of job increases is too short a time to indicate any trend, and that figures show textile and apparel purchases by retailers shifting from China to other Asian producers, not back to the United States.

“We have absolutely no evidence that shows that the China safeguards have had any beneficial impact on the U.S. textile industry in terms of increasing orders and production,” said Erik Autor, international trade counsel at the National Retail Federation.

China exported $19.5 billion in textiles and apparel to the United States through October, a 58 percent increase from the same time the previous year. Worldwide imports increased 7.8 percent to $75.7 billion.

Imports from the Caribbean, Central America and Mexico, meanwhile, declined slightly, while other major suppliers, including India, Indonesia, Pakistan and Vietnam, saw slight rises.

The steady demand for inexpensive imported clothing and fabric has killed off scores of U.S. companies, and the shake-out may not be complete.

Dan River Inc., for example, this month confirmed that India’s Gujarat Heavy Chemicals Ltd. completed the purchase of the Danville, Va., bedding manufacturer.

City officials expect the elimination of 600 to 1,000 factory jobs as production moves to India, while about 600 warehouse and white-collar jobs will remain.

It is still not clear if job losses, like those at Dan River, or new hires, like those at American Fibers and Yarns, will be the rule this year.

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