BARNWELL, S.C. — The southwestern corner of South Carolina can be seen as a microcosm of the impact of national trade policy on the textile industry.
The region is feeling the pain of the falling economy as two major textile employers, Milliken & Co. and Hanesbrands Inc., plan to shut plants and put more than 400 people out of work.
Milliken’s plant, which employs 120, has been operating alternating weeks and plans to close its doors for good in June, county officials said. Hanesbrands, which employed 319, plans to close its plant by the end of April. Milliken is shifting work from the Barnwell plant to other South Carolina locations, a spokesman said. Hanes is expected to move operations offshore.
Spokesmen for both companies did not return telephone calls to discuss the closures. But a source with knowledge of Milliken said the plant closure is a response to the economy.
“Milliken doesn’t want surplus capacity if it doesn’t use it,” he said,noting the company has almost halved its employee rolls in the past 20 years. “Milliken will always survive, but it has to restructure and it has to navigate through this economic crisis.”
The loss of these two plants isn’t the only blow to this part of the state. A Mohawk Carpet plant in neighboring Allendale County closed last year and put 225 people out of work. Also, in February, Allied Air enterprises in the town of Blackville, which is in Barnwell County, said it would close with the loss of 350 jobs. The plant makes heat pumps and cooling units, and manufacturing is being consolidated in Mexico.
Kay Maxwell, marketing director for the Southern Carolina Regional Development Alliance, which is trying to attract jobs to this rural area, said, “The textile industry was good to this part of the country for a long time.”
Some say that in addition to a faltering economy, U.S. trade policies such as the North American Free Trade Agreement have struck a fatal blow to U.S. industry. Revival of import duties and trade-distorting subsidies from world traders such as Russia, China, India, Argentina, Australia and the U.S. are haunting the upcoming G-20 summit on Thursday in London. Those same calls are being made by many in rural South Carolina.
“Trade policies have ruined us,” said Barnwell City Mayor Edward Lemon, adding policies should be revisited so U.S. industries are better protected from foreign competition.
“I don’t agree with policies that force our companies overseas,” he said. “I just think that every job will end up overseas. If we’re willing to bail out banks and car companies, why aren’t we bailing out the textile industry?”
Pointing to the upcoming closure of the Milliken plant, Lemon said, “When our trade policies hit Milliken, then you know something’s wrong.”
Milliken, based in Spartanburg, S.C., is revered in the state for its ability to survive the vicissitudes of the economy. It has diversified into chemicals and found production niches that enabled it to survive, said Robert Becker, director of the Strom Thurmond Institute of Government and Public Affairs at Clemson University. Just as Milliken has moved quickly in response to economic pressures, so should rural areas such as Barnwell County, Becker said.
Free trade policies have only accelerated what is an inevitable shift in U.S. manufacturing, he said.
“Lower wage jobs and companies would have relocated regardless of trade because of the need for increased productivity,” he said. “Most job losses are because of efficiencies within sectors.”
He points to the automobile industry as an example and said because of heightened efficiencies, fewer man hours are put into each newly manufactured car.
Instead of barriers that would ultimately raise prices, Becker said government could take another tack toward saving domestic industries, such as tax or investment tax credits.
“Much more could have been done,” he said. “Trade barriers are not as effective as people like to believe. There are other ways to be competitive.”
As jobs disappear from Barnwell County, officials have to turn to different sectors to rebuild its employer base, Becker said.
“They have to figure out how to link to sectors that are growing, not to sectors that won’t come back,” he added.
South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, a Republican, bucks the conventional sentiment among the state’s textile industry and is an opponent of trade barriers and an advocate of open trade policies. An opponent of the federal stimulus package, Sanford has opposed subsidies to the banking and auto industries, as well.
“Yes, there’s pain in textile job losses, but we’re still able to survive by attracting new industry,” said Sanford’s communications director Joel Sawyer.
Economic survival of rural areas spanning South Carolina depends on human capital, he said. Barnwell County’s workers, with about 10 percent holding college degrees, need to be retrained and educated, Becker said.
“If they don’t have a high school diploma, they need to get it,” he said. “If they don’t have an associate’s degree, they need to get one. Those young enough should go back to school and get retrained.”
@chanel and @pharrell dropped what’s being dubbed as the world’s most exclusive sneakers yesterday. The Adidas Originals NMD Hu, which Williams designed in collaboration with Chanel and @adidasoriginals, has a waiting list of over 120K people who pre-registered online at chanelatcolette.fr –– and only 500 pairs are on sale. The singer predicted the resale value of the shoes could reach $40K. Read the full interview on WWD.com. Link in bio. #wwdfashion
@imanshumpert is diving deeper into his creative endeavors and relaunching his clothing line, Post 90s, and is helping to raise money for the hurricane victims in St. Maarten with a jersey he’s designed with his brother. The Cleveland Cavaliers player talked to WWD about kneeling during the national anthem, working with fashion brands and how he wants to be more than an @nba player. Read the interview on WWD.com #wwdfashion (📷: George Chinese)
Not only does #TheProfit return to CNBC tonight, but @marcuslemonis has launched @shopmarcus, a new shopping and lifestyle retail experience in Aspen and Chicago, with more locations to come. The retail stores offer in-store stylists and a variety of contemporary womenswear selections.
“It’s life, I’m going to face it,” @mingxi11 sighed. “I fell, but you know, I think the most important thing is that I get back up. I had the love, the help from my sister — the girl next to me Gizele [Oliveira] — she’s so nice. When I went backstage everybody was trying to comfort me like ‘Oh Ming, it’s OK.’ I’m really, really touched. I think it’s them who gave me the courage to go back on stage for the finale,” Xi told WWD of her fall at the @victoriassecret fashion show. (📷: David Fisher) #wwdfashion #vsfashionshow #victoriassecret
@louisvuitton tapped @therealpeterlindbergh for its latest city-centric photo book, which is part of a series called Fashion Eye. The primarily black and white book captures the spirit of Berlin in 57 images shot between 1989 and 2019. “Berlin is an inspiration for me, more than a city. I mean @millajovovich is simply Berlin!” said Lindbergh. #wwdfashion
“You know, I think audiences expect a certain performance so I have to deliver to them what they’re expecting to a certain degree. But I’m also a different actor and a different person, I have my own spin on the character,” says @noahegalvin of his takeover of the leading role in “Dear Evan Hansen” following the departure of @bensplatt, who originated the role. Read WWD’s interview with the 23-year-old actor on WWD.com #wwdeye (📷: @jilliansollazzo)
For pre-fall 2018, @etro created richly-colored wonderland, using tapestries, textiles and wallpapers from the Eastern world at large. The line featured floral and graphic prints and jacquard motifs, like this two-piece look featured here. #wwdfashion (📷: Giovanna Pavesi)
@kith is moving into children’s. The men’s and women’s streetwear brand has launched Kidset, a Kith kids line located in New York at 64 Bleecker Street. The line includes mini versions of staple Kith pieces like the Astor bomber jacket and the Kith box logo sweatshirts, along with a wall that can display up to 120 pairs of shoes from @adidas, @newbalance, @timberland and more. #wwdfashion
“I just wanted to create this fully rounded character, but I do think what excited me most was just the opportunity to give a group of people representation that I feel needs it. I like to do characters in projects that stand for something and Karolina definitely does, so that was really exciting to me,” @ginnygardner says of her new role in @hulu’s “The Runaways.” Gardner plays Karolina Dean, a queer superhero, which is a rarity for @marvel. Read more about Gardner’s character on WWD.com #wwdeye (📷: @dandoperalski)