Based on current trends, it appears that way; however, in no way will the U.S. textile and apparel industries demand the large workforce that once existed well into the 1990s before jobs began to move overseas.  In a two-part series, The New York Times features a few companies and their successes as well as challenges during this industry shift.  Overall, companies are shifting production from China back to America simply because customers are requesting American-made goods.  This growing demand for domestic products has resulted in an increased need for specialized jobs within the U.S.  In turn, manufacturers in the city of Minneapolis, as well as several other cities across the country, are working on building a skilled sewing workforce while other manufacturers are more focused on technological advancements in order to maintain a competitive edge.  Regardless of the industry, a company’s greatest assets always include its employees and its innovative technologies.  These are two assets that a company should closely evaluate when selecting a new supplier or assessing a current one.

As labor costs continue to rise in other countries and customers request more American-made goods, manufacturers are reevaluating their supply chains and making changes.  Most of these changes are in the form of relocating factories back to the U.S. and filling specialized job positions.  Many are expecting that by taking these measures, high quality will be delivered and there will be fewer safety issues to address.  In the second part of the series, which mainly discusses the current need for a skilled sewing workforce in the U.S., it is noted that “accidents, like the factory collapse in Bangladesh earlier this year, have reinforced the push for domestic production.”  In addition, “wages for cut-and-sew jobs, the core of the apparel industry’s remaining work force, have been rising fast – increasing 13.2 percent on an inflation-adjusted basis from 2007 to 2012.”  The New York Times provides a historical overview of the textile industry and its evolving workforce dating back to the 1800s.  Modernization and innovation have eliminated several jobs as automation is possible throughout the manufacturing process.  Since the primary focus for quite some time has been on automation, the skilled sewing work force has slowly dissolved and many manufacturers are struggling to attract a new wave of factory workers.

Recruitment centers have popped up across the nation, job postings can be found in churches and community centers, and ads are circulated in foreign language newspapers.  With little results being generated from these efforts, manufacturers in Minnesota decided to join efforts and form a coalition to partner with a nonprofit organization and technical college and begin building a skilled work force from “scratch.”  These three parties, the Makers Coalition, Lifetrack, “a nonprofit group in St. Paul that helps immigrants, people on welfare and those with disabilities”, and Dunwoody College of Technology, completed its first training course in June.  Improvements are currently being made to develop a more robust and applicable curriculum.  Overall, eight (8) graduates received job positions.

One company, although initially looking to rely on the results of the coalition, decided to control their own fate.  Airtex Design Group, a company that produces home textiles for Pottery Barn and other retail stores, has a factory in China.  However, it has begun to focus its efforts on its American factory floors due to increasing wages and risks abroad.  “Initially, Airtex paid $3 an hour on average for its Chinese workers; now it pays about $11.80 an hour, including benefits and housing.”  Its American workers’ wages range from $9 to $17 an hour with a benefits adder.  Airtex came to the realization that if it wanted good workers, it will have to train them and bring them in on its own.  There are sure to be upfront costs tied to this solution, but Airtex can have more control of its overall operations domestically and ensure more consistency with regards to employee performance.

Several manufacturing companies continue to make efforts to eliminate risk factors within their supply chains.  They also seek out opportunities to control costs more.  To many, these same companies are viewed as suppliers and measures should also be taken on the customer’s side to evaluate a supplier’s supply chain.  Most of the changes made by these manufacturing companies have been the result of them listening to their customer.  Customers do “not want to pay overseas freight costs to import bulky items like pillows, and they wanted more flexibility in turning around designs quickly.”  Safety and quality issues were also concerns.  Customers should certainly voice these concerns; however, it is also the supplier’s responsibility to closely monitor all operations and be aware of potential risks to ensure more stable supply chains.

Stay tuned for more details on how technological advancements have impacted the textile industry.
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Kathleen Jordan

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