The President of Patrick Yarns is a bit of an odd duck these days. While most domestic manufacturers are consumed by cutbacks and layoffs, Gilbert Patrick is looking to add to his North Carolina workforce. "We have been very fortunate to never lay off a single associate due to the economy in 45 years," says Patrick. Just what economy is he working in?
Patrick's roots in the North Carolina textile industry stretch back more than a hundred years. In the early 1900s, his grandfather started Kings Mountain Cotton Oil Co., which consisted of a cotton gin, an oil mill, a coal yard and an ice plant--a business for every season. Those industries began to wane in the 1960s, so his father H.L. Patrick bought some used textile equipment and started Patrick Yarns, focusing exclusively on spinning industrial mop yarn.
Fifty years ago, there were 10 family-owned spinning plants in Kings Mountain and hundreds of textile mills across the Carolinas, employing hundreds of thousands of people. You know how that story went. Patrick Yarns is the only family-owned spinning plant still standing in the small mill town, and billion-dollar corporations like Springs and Pillowtex have either moved their manufacturing overseas or vanished. The bigger picture is even worse. According to the U.S. Labor Department, the country lost more than 4 million manufacturing jobs from 2000 to 2008, a number that is likely to rise when the damage from this recession is counted.
While many domestic manufacturers increasingly rely on undocumented workers who earn minimum wage and receive no benefits, Patrick credits his company's environmentally friendly business practices, above-average pay and good employee benefits for making the firm more, not less, competitive. And he lays most of the blame for the decimated manufacturing industry on an uneven playing field with China. "The [previous] Administration refused to make China play by the rules," he says. "If China stops the illegal subsidies they're giving their industries and does something to offset the currency manipulation, we're good to go."
Patrick is not looking for government intervention to save his business, however. The company's manufacturing business model may seem counterintuitive. In a world where the efficiencies of scale have prompted textilemakers to mass-produce a limited line of goods, Patrick Yarns spins a wide range of products for a diverse group of customers. While a maker of industrial conveyor belts requires a sturdy yarn with minimal flexibility, for example, a safety-apparel manufacturer needs yarn that offers protection from cuts and heat. Patrick spins highly abrasion-resistant yarn for military applications, moisture-absorption and -retention yarn for fiber-optic cables and antimicrobial yarn for water filtration.
The broad-reach strategy has worked. When Patrick took over operation of the business in 1993, the company ran a single plant with 50 employees. Today there are 170 employees and two state-of-the-art mills with more than 426,000 sq. ft. (about 40,000 sq m) of manufacturing space operating three shifts, six days a week.