By John Johnson
Just when it seemed things could get no worse for the U.S. textile industry, they did. It started with a flood of imported textiles and apparel from Asia about four years ago, and now, domestic economic recession is rubbing salt in the wound.
Consequently, U.S. textile manufacturing continues to contract, and PCCA’s Textile Division has not been unaffected by the uncontrollable forces that are playing havoc with one of the country’s most basic industries. Where or when it will end is anyone’s guess.
PCCA announced on Nov. 26 that declining denim sales resulting from the continuing U.S. economic downturn would force the cooperative to reduce its Mission Valley operation in New Braunfels, TX, resulting in the loss of 130 jobs effective immediately. Consequently, Mission Valley retained 82 employees for production of ring-spun yarn and other support functions.
This latest cutback came less than seven months after PCCA halted production of yarn-dyed, woven fabrics and converted the plant to a spinning, denim weaving and finishing operation that resulted in the loss of 370 management, sales and production jobs. It was an effort to eliminate financial losses brought on by cheap, yarn-dyed fabrics imported from Asia.
“Earlier this year, we believed denim production offered the best opportunity for Mission Valley by focusing on a fabric with which we have experienced tremendous success in the past,” said PCCA President and CEO Van May. “Little did we know the U.S. economy and consumer spending would continue to decline with no end in sight,” May continued.
The changes forced upon PCCA’s Textile Division come from only the tip of an iceberg that has sunk or severely damaged some of the United States’ most venerable textile companies. In the 12 months ending October 2001, approximately 100 U.S. textile mills closed. American Textile Manufacturers Institute (ATMI) President Charles A. Hayes of Guilford Mills, Inc., left little doubt about the dire circumstances in a letter faxed to U.S. senators on Nov. 27.
“The U.S. textile industry is in the midst of the worst economic crisis we have faced since the Great Depression,” Hayes wrote. “We have already lost more than 60,000 jobs in the past 12 months, at least 18 additional textile plants have closed just since Sept. 11 and three more major textile companies have filed for Chapter 11 protection in the past two weeks.” ATMI also reported recently that the U.S. textile industry now employs about 25 percent fewer workers than it did before the Asian crisis began in 1997.
PCCA’s latest effort to adapt to current market conditions required the relocation of Mission Valley’s newest and most modern weaving looms to the American Cotton Growers (ACG) plant in Littlefield, TX. Several open-end spinning frames also were relocated.
“To avoid most moving costs, we have used salaried ACG supervisors and our own trucks to move the equipment from New Braunfels to Littlefield,” May said. “We were committed to making this transition at the least cost possible.”
Upon completion of the transition, Mission Valley will manufacture ring-spun yarn for certain denim styles required by customers. The facility also has the equipment to finish 68-inch-wide denim woven in Littlefield for those customers who prefer the wider cloth.
In another cost-cutting move, Mission Valley has closed its Creative Textiles warehouse in New Braunfels and declined to renew its lease. Vacant space in the Mission Valley plant now will be used for cloth storage and shipping.
“The Mission Valley plant is an ideal shipping point due to its close proximity to Mexico where many of our denim customers have cutting and sewing facilities,” May explained. “This strategic move will help us to further reduce our operating costs.”
The changes also include new duties for three Textile Division managers. All are long-time employees and bring in-depth knowledge and experience to their new responsibilities.
Bryan Gregory will assume plant management responsibilities for both of PCCA’s textile facilities. He joined the staff of ACG in May 1988 as a management trainee following graduation from Angelo State University. During the next 10 years, Gregory held numerous positions including: warp prep supervisor, quality control supervisor, quality control manager, finishing superintendent and warp prep superintendent. In June 1998, he was named plant manager at Mission Valley.
Cleo Smith is the new production superintendent at ACG. Originally from North Carolina, he joined ACG in December 1979 as assistant weave superintendent and later was promoted to weave superintendent. Two years ago, Smith was named production superintendent at Mission Valley.
Gerald Gohlke will oversee day-to-day operations at the Mission Valley facility. He joined ACG in 1977 and worked in quality control, warp prep and finishing before being named shop supervisor in 1980. From 1988 to 1996, Gohlke was yarn superintendent before being promoted to plant engineer, and in 1999 he was named plant engineer at Mission Valley.
Meanwhile, denim manufacturers such as PCCA are hoping strong marketing and promotion efforts by apparel companies and retail outlets that began with the back-to-school season will soon pay dividends and rejuvenate the market. For months, stores have loaded up on denim apparel, stuffing shelves and cramming tables and racks.
When consumers’ confidence in the economy returns, denim could be one of the first to benefit. Besides being a basic apparel item, denim recently has been the centerpiece of new fashion trends, and pop culture has made denim acceptable and hot in every form and forum. The supply is there, and denim ads seem to be everywhere. All that is needed is consumers ready to spend.