MAULDIN, S.C. — Roger Chastain is a member of the textile industry’s old guard.

Chastain, 63, president and chief operating officer of Mount Vernon Mills here, which employs 4,134 people in the U.S., is tired of watching the nation’s manufacturing base shrink.

That’s the primary reason he resigned from the board of the National Council of Textile Organizations when it voted to endorse CAFTA and splintered the industry. Beyond his philosophical leanings, Chastain said CAFTA could hurt his business.

In an interview at his headquarters here on the outskirts of Greenville, Chastain, who has trimmed his U.S. payroll from a high of 6,000 at the end of 2002, said the agreement will hit the company’s pocketing and lining business if a pledge by the Bush administration to change a provision in the accord falls through — and he predicted it will.

“We’ve got six operations that run pockets and linings, including two in Texas, one in Mississippi, two in South Carolina and one in Alabama, and there will definitely be some jobs lost,” he said.

Chastain has seen many of his close competitors close and file for bankruptcy. “Those jobs are gone for good,” he said.

He feels so strongly about the damaging impact of free trade and imports that he would not support CAFTA even if the administration changed a provision in the accord to require U.S. or regional-only pocketing fabrics, which would help his business.

He is opposed to moving the business abroad like some competitors.

“I’m too old,” he said. “We are not a public company. If you are a public company, you can go wherever it is cheapest and wherever they will make the most profit. That part is the tragedy.”

Even if Mount Vernon were a public company, Chastain would be opposed to shifting his business and firing U.S. workers.

“I don’t know where people come from on wanting to move to low-wage countries,” Chastain said. “I guess I’m too old to want to make a living that way.”

This story first appeared in the June 28, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

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