From The Editor: Yes, Textiles Are Made In The USA, In 18,783 Locations

By Jim Borneman, Editor In Chief

There is an unfortunate tendency today to accept generalities as fact and to assume that those facts are correct. This is not necessarily the case. Take textiles, for example. Yes, there have been sweeping changes in the industry — plants have closed, textile employment doesn’t quite have the numbers it once had. But the assumptions that textiles are no longer made in the United States, that there are no domestic apparel producers — those assumptions are simply wrong.

On National Public Radio the other evening during drive time, there was a piece that was attacking the tariff system. Toward the end of the story, a trade lawyer quipped,  “You know, there are almost no producers of apparel left in the United States.” And, referring to tariffs on imported goods, he said, “These are vestiges of an older time when in fact we had those jobs.”  That statement was unchallenged by the interviewer — a case of assumed generality accepted as fact.

Textile World 
is often asked to describe the textile industry to non-industry parties — journalists dabbling with half a fact, analysts trying to understand the scope of the industry — and one of the best ways to do that is to turn to government-gathered data and observe your tax dollars at work.

The North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) defines textiles with three separate codes: NAICS 313, textile mills; NAICS 314, textile product mills; and NAICS 315, apparel
manufacturing. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages according to NAICS code.

For NAICS 313, textile mills, as of the end of the second quarter of 2010, the preliminary data show there were 3,255 private establishments defined as textile mills. This number compares to 5,637 reported in 2001 and has been fairly stable since 2007, when 3,828 textile mills were reported.

For NAICS 314, textile product mills, as of the end of the second quarter of 2010, the preliminary data show there were 7,581 private establishments. This compares to 8,505 reported in 2001, and the number of mills was more than 8,000 as recently as 2008.

And for NAICS 315, apparel manufacturing, as of the end of the second quarter of 2010, the preliminary data show there were 7,947 private apparel manufacturing establishments in the United States. This compares to a hefty 15,478 reported in 2001 and does show a dramatic drop in facilities — with a loss of roughly 1,000 facilities a year until 2007, when the drop halved to approximately 500 facilities a year.

The number of establishments does show a negative trend, but the yearly series also reflects a slowing of closures.

With a total of 18,783 private establishments reported across textiles’ three NAICS codes, at least the government acknowledges the existence of the industry and the jobs it sustains.

Are 18,783 textile establishments significant? Probably really significant if you work at one of them, but maybe not so much if you are a trade lawyer who doesn’t see the value of the tariff
system, particularly because —  “These are vestiges of an older time when in fact we had those jobs.”

January/February 2011