MILLS GETTING BACK ON LINE IN FLOOD COUNTRY
Byline: MICHAEL MCNAMARA
NEW YORK — After two weeks of flooding in southwest Georgia and southeast Alabama, Monday was the first day operations in many textile and apparel plants throughout the area were able to return to fairly normal schedules.
Executives said that while most plants sustained minor damage — broken windows and flooded basements — it was the lack of basic services, such as water and telephones, that caused them to close. The inability of workers to get to the plants also halted production. Several facilities were able to open last week, but many had only skeleton crews on hand.
While the exact damage to textile plants in dollar terms is very low, lost orders could total tens of millions of dollars, some said.
Jess Barr, an economist with the National Cotton Council, said it’s too early to determine how much of the region’s cotton crop would be damaged or lost.
“My guess is at least a small portion of the crop has been impacted,” said Barr early Monday morning. “We have to wait until the water recedes and the growers report more damage [to the U.S. Department of Agriculture].”
According to a spokesman from the USDA, a total of about 300,000 acres of farmland were damaged by the floods. He said he didn’t know how much of that land was devoted to cotton.
The flooding started two weeks ago when the remains of tropical storm Alberto stalled and brought massive downpours to the region. While it has rained every day since then, the intensity has diminished, allowing the flood waters to recede.
In addition, many of the nearly 8,000 textile workers in the region were personally affected by the flood. Some of them lost their homes.
“From a plant perspective, we were lucky,” said Norman Barger, human resources manager at Texprint Inc., a bleaching and dyeing plant in Macon, Ga. “Some of our employees, however, weren’t so fortunate. Some had water in their living rooms, while others lost almost everything. In addition, very few had insurance.”
Texprint, on Monday, began its first production runs since July 1, Barger said, adding that customers were notified regarding shipment and production delays. Texprint serves several New York-based printed fabric converters.
David Caplan, president and chief executive officer of Metro Fabrics, a print converter here and Texprint’s largest customer, estimates that he will lose between 500,000 and 600,000 yards in orders.
“The crime about Texprint’s having to close is that we have all these passionate rush orders, many of which will now evaporate,” Caplan said. “We couldn’t shift production to other print plants — either in New Jersey or New England — because our screens are at Texprint. This is going to hurt.”
Two other Macon facilities — an Aladdin Mills carpet plant and YKK Corp., a zipper maker — both got back into full production Monday.
Coats & Clark, a thread producer in Albany, Ga., one of the areas hardest hit by the storm, was also operating at full capacity for the first time since July 2. The plant was closed the week of July 4 and was operating with a skeleton crew last week.
“Everywhere the water hit left a big mess,” said Oran Broome, Coats & Clark’s personnel and administration manager. “We’re back, though, and it feels good.”
Bibb & Co.’s Juliette, Ga., plant — which was closed through the week of July 4 and was running sporadically last week — was operating at close to 100 percent Monday, according to a Bibb spokesman.
In Alabama, David Seagraves, executive vice president of the Alabama Textile Manufacturers Association, said Clinton Mills had two major plants in Geneva, Ala., that were threatened by the flood waters, Both were open on Monday and, according to personnel at each location, were operating.
Other Alabama mills up and running on Monday were Columbus Mills in Eufaula and Twitchell, a maker of woven industrial fabrics, in Dothan.
“None of our members received significant damage in terms of their plants,” said Seagraves, “but the employees were affected.”
As for the region’s apparel manufacturers, a spokeswoman for the American Apparel Contractors Association in Atlanta, said, “As far as I’ve heard, everyone’s pretty much up to speed again. There are still some roads out, but the power is back and work is getting done.”
In addition, a spokeswoman for the American Apparel Manufacturers Association in Arlington, Va., said most plants reported at least 85 percent production as of Monday.
RCM Enterprises Inc., in Baconton, Ga., another hard-hit area, had roughly 95 percent of its 145 workers back on Monday morning, said David Rackley,
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plant vice president.
“We’re about four days behind schedule right now, but we hope to make it up by the end of next week,” said Rackley, whose firm is a producer of children’s wear, boxer shorts and uniforms.
“Last week we were hurt because most of the bridges around here were out, but they were fixed over the weekend,” Rackley said.
Several companies with Southern plants unaffected by the floods have initiated relief programs for damaged areas. Dundee Mills, Griffin, Ga., has sent towels and baby products to Bainbridge; Russell Co. and Fruit of the Loom have sent thousands of T-shirts into various areas in Georgia, and Thomaston Mills has sent thousands of sets of bed sheets into other affected areas.
“It’s awful down here,” said Craig Camuso, a representative with the Georgia Textile Manufacturers Association, who has traveled through the flooded areas. “There’s an awful stench with dead animals floating around, and the mosquitoes are awful. In one part of Albany, coffins washed out of the cemetery.