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Textiles Offer a Strong Fabric to Support TN Economy

Tennessee leads the country in man-made textiles, and the industry is growing. (darkday/Flickr)
Tennessee leads the country in man-made textiles, and the industry is growing. (darkday/Flickr)
March 28, 2018

OAK RIDGE, Tenn. - The United States is exporting more man-made fiber, textiles and apparel in the global market, increasing by more than $3 billion in 2017 from $74 billion the year before. Tennessee is a big part of that.

The state ranks fifth in the country for textile jobs that employ almost 14,000 people in the state. The new figures from the National Council of Textile Organizations show even more potential for growth in the area of man-made fiber, and Lloyd Wood, director of public affairs for the trade group, said the Volunteer State has an advantage over neighboring states.

"Tennessee is particularly strong in carbon fiber with the Oak Ridge Labs," he said. "If you're talking about carbon fiber, if you're talking about other man-made fibers, Tennessee is number one in the country in those jobs."

According to the U.S. Commerce Department, North America and Asia are the largest markets for American textile imports. Some trade experts say President Donald Trump's recent tariffs on Chinese imports may start a trade war that could affect exports. Wood said his trade group supports trading relationships that are based on reciprocity.

In the last year, two textile-plant expansions in Mountain City and Pikeville meant more than $170,000,000 invested in the economy and more than 1,000 jobs. Wood said the challenge to the state is to foster programs that offer job training to support these industries.

"One of the big challenges for the industry is working together with your local schools - with your community colleges, with your universities - to make sure that we have a workforce that can operate this very sophisticated machinery," he said.

The University of Tennessee has the Textiles and Nonwovens Development Center, and Tennessee Tech has a merchandising and design program to help train workers in the industry.

More information is online at ncto.org.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - TN