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From The Editor
James M. Borneman, Editor In Chief

US Textiles' New Reality

James M. Borneman, Editor In Chief

S maller, leaner, chasing niches, strategically shifting market segments, adding value, partnering, investing globally — these are all phrases that describe the new reality of US textile companies.

The fact is, the industry is changing faster than people acknowledge. Internally, assets are shifting. Within the United States, a tangible movement away from low-cost-producer strategies toward lower-volume, higher-margin businesses is altering the focus of capital investment. Efficiency and productivity are givens — the search is on for flexibility, market responsiveness and any process or product development that presents opportunity. Global investment is taking place and is transforming some US firms’ manufacturing footprints.

These strategic shifts have been advocated for years, but the economic realities of China, the lack of interest in the manufacturing sector by the US government and the collapse of leading low-cost-producer companies have forced the invisible hand of economics to chase out companies that were unable to change, and galvanized those remaining with a survivor’s spirit — not of optimism, nor pessimism, but one of realism.

Many suppliers and vendors to the US textile industry have focused their efforts toward other countries in a big way — countries that fit the old model of US investment that leads to rapidly expanding capacity. For many vendors, this is a reasonable response to a changing global marketplace. But for those choosing to abandon the United States, this is a shortsighted mistake that will change the perception of long-dominant technology-, fiber- and chemistry-based brands. It also makes accessing developing technologies that much harder for a US industry interested in redirecting its assets.

Recently released and revised US Economic Census data for the manufacturing sector illustrate the decline in capital investment, materials purchased and total industry shipments — but they also show this is an industry that still invests, buys and sells a significant dollar volume of goods. For those investing abroad, many make technology decisions while residing on US soil.

China is coming under increased scrutiny, which makes many who have pointed to the storm clouds on the horizon feel redeemed — and, at the same time, frustrated because of the inability to influence a proactive change.

A recent Business Week article titled “No More Mr. Nice Guy With China” stated, “Given the increasing irritation in Congress and the swelling trade deficit with China, the Administration team may have little choice but to ratchet up its pressure on Beijing and hope for the best.” Imagine that! In terms of our relations with China and all the chaos and energy the trade debate has sucked out of the system, we’ve been relegated to hoping for the best — that is just sad.

Don’t count the US textile industry out. Sectors are changing, investment is changing, and how the industry responds to the marketplace is changing. Suppliers that are willing to partner, willing to assist in change, and willing to move beyond efficiency and productivity will be some of the first to benefit from the new reality of US textiles.

May 2005