Cotton mill comeback

U.S.cotton mills making comeback



I grew up in a textile town. My mother and father worked in the mills, and I worked in

a cotton mill from the summer I turned 16 years old until I was a sophomore in college.

Working in the cotton mill was a lot of hard work for a little bit of pay. That said, our family never lacked for much growing up. We were poor, but so was everybody else who lived in the mill village. We didn’t know much difference.

The textile industry literally went away with little fanfare, and for me, little notice. My parents retired before the mills shut down. Most of my friends, like me, couldn’t wait to leave the lint-head life, and we did — in droves.

That was then!  Now, I drive by any of the five cotton mills that dotted the landscape in a 10-12 mile stretch along the Chattahoochee River, and I feel sad. I see the incredibly high crime and unemployment in the area, and can’t help but remember how different it was back when the mills were such an integral part of life there.

During the recent Southern Cotton Growers and Southeastern Cotton Ginners annual meeting, I listened intently to a presentation by Cass Morgan, president and CEO of the National Council of Textile organizations.

I wanted to stand up and cheer when he said U.S. textile production was up in 2010 — he end of a long, long downward spiral. Though U.S. textile consumption is only 3.6 out of 18 or so million bales produced by U.S. cotton growers, progress is progress.

Sadly, the textile executive says so much of the U.S. cotton crop is targeted for export that there may be a shortage of cotton for U.S. mills, especially if the current growth continues.

“What a black eye for the cotton industry that would be,” he said.

No, I don’t think so — that’s where Mr. Morgan and I differ on the cotton mill comeback. When the textile industry went away, U.S. cotton growers and the U.S. cotton industry didn’t sit back and wait for a miniscule upturn in the textile industry. They went out and developed new markets in Asia and South America.

As best I know, cotton growers don’t now and never have worked for the U.S. textile industry. Any upturn in U.S. cotton use will help cotton growers, and I’m sure they appreciate the progress.

I suspect most of the Southern cotton growers at the associations’ annual meeting joined me in a quiet cheer at the news of the recent increase in U.S. cotton use, but I doubt many felt it would make a big difference in how they grow and market their cotton.

I know one South Carolina cotton grower who sells his entire 1,000 or so acre cotton crop to one U.S. textile company. Those types of arrangements are available for U.S. textile mills.

And, with something close to 13 million acres of cotton projected for 2011, I doubt there will be a shortage of U.S-grown cotton for U.S. cotton mills. There should be plenty of high quality U.S. grown cotton available for a fair market price.

The U.S. textile industry is going to need the farm lobby to help get the 4-cent government incentive program extended into 2012. Without that political pop, the increase in U.S. cotton usage is not likely to grow. Even with the 4-cents per bale used that the textile industry has received over the past four years; growth has been slow at best.

Three new cotton mills began operation in 2010 in Texas, Louisiana and South Carolina. No doubt the rural economies in those towns where the mills started-up will benefit from a new employer in town.

Despite the recent growth and though rural economies across the Southeast are begging for salvation, a wholesale return of cotton mills isn’t likely to be it.

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