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.”
@margotrobbie steps out onto the red carpet wearing @miumiu. The actress is nominated for “Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role” in “I, Tonya” at the #SagAwards. (📷: Stewart Cook) #wwdfashion
For @massimogiorgetti of @msgm, the Nineties are his favorite decade. “They had a huge impact on my personal growth. What I like of the Nineties is that they are not so precise in terms of style as other decades…there was actually a bit of everything,” he said. As seen on MSGM’s Spring 2018 show: tie-dye and a bit of grunge, two styles that are synonymous with the decade #wwdfashion #wwddecades (📷: @kukukuba)
Breaking News: @hedislimane joins @celine as its new artistic, creative and image director. One of fashion’s preeminent image-makers and trendsetters, Slimane is to join the LVMH brand on Feb. 1 and unveil his first fashion proposition for men and women next September during Paris Fashion Week. It marks a major homecoming for Slimane, who cemented his reputation – and influenced men’s tailoring for more than a decade – as the designer of Dior Homme between 2000 and 2007. He went on to reinvent and ignite the house of Yves Saint Laurent, which he rechristened Saint Laurent, between 2012 and 2016 – all the while maintaining a close relationship with the Arnault family, which controls LVMH and Dior. Read the full exclusive story on WWD.com. Link in bio. #wwdnews #wwdfashion
“Personally I believe the Eighties have been the richest and more vivacious period for international fashion,” Giorgio Armani said when asked what his favorite decade of fashion is. It was a moment of disruption and experimentation and only thinking back to the first years of that decade is always an emotion for me, for what they have meant to me and my work.” The influence is clear in @giorgioarmani spring 2018 collection, pictured here, which was full of bright colors and unexpected prints. Read more about which decades designers loved most on WWD.com #wwdfashion #wwddecades (📷: @aitorrosasphoto)
For Lady Gaga’s only Italian show on her “Joanne World Tour,” the singer wore a range of @versace_official outfits. The standout piece: this custom-made bodysuit inspired by the brand’s spring 2018 collection. #wwdfashion (RG: @ladygaga)
@_camillaruth_ is expanding on the wellness-craze concept with @westbourne – a new NYC restaurant that’s both a healthy-minded café as well as a business that gives back to the community. Marcus works with the Robin Hood foundation to give back to The Door, a non-profit providing youth development services, and also hires employees through The Door. Read our full interview with Marcus on giving back through food on WWD.com. #wwdeye (📷: @lexieblacklock)