Company Keeping Up in Changing Textile World

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A textile mill, tucked quietly away on the outskirts of Whiteville defies the notion that the textile industry is dead in North Carolina. 

In fact, National Spinning is running three shifts, employs about 250 full time employees (it once had dropped to about 220) and plans to invest $1 million over the next nine months in machinery at the plant that opened here in 1959.

The investment adds capacity to the Whiteville facility as the company continues to seek new markets in its yarn, craft and thermo bonded divisions across the state.

“We are running extra shifts,” Whiteville Plant Manager Rick Barton said this week.

How is it that a company has survived when so many textile mills have closed their doors? 

For Barton the answer is simple.

“We are changing who we are,” Barton said, pointing out National Spinning has ventured into the high performance fiber arena and brought with it a long-standing reputation of giving customers what they want.

The plant is a leaner operation today than it was decades ago.

There is almost no inventory.

“We make product based on orders,” Barton said. “Everything we do is value-added.”

Customers get just what they ask for.

“It is just in time, lean manufacturing with very little inventory,” he said.

More efficiency and higher production have boosted the plant’s success.

Barton said 20 years ago the Whiteville plant may have produced 500,000 pounds a month but today easily produces 200,000 pounds a week.

The company is also the spinner of choice for U.S. Air Force pilot jacket materials.

DuPont produces the fiber and National Spinning spins it before it moves along the value chain and becomes a final product.

“It’s a finite partnership,” Barton said and a contract that offers stability.

“It’s job security. The military contract makes it so that we can’t go anywhere,” Barton said. “It is a tremendous boost to this plant.”

Quality is paramount, Barton said.

“You can’t have problems,” he said. “It has to be high quality.”

National Spinning is also evolving to appeal to more demanding clients by way of environmental responsibility.

Two months ago the facility went green in a big way.

Company officials implemented a plan for zero waste.

That means everything from cardboard to leftover food from the break room at the Whiteville plant will never make it to a landfill.

“We are landfill free,” Barton said. “Nothing goes to a landfill.”

The cost of having a firm recycle all of the plant’s waste is offset by what the firm once paid in landfill tipping fees.

“There is no anticipated increase in cost – if so, minimal,” Barton said.

It’s not only an earthfriendly position but also one customers want.

“They ask ‘What is your carbon footprint?’,” Barton said.

“Customers are asking for that green certification and our customers’ customers are asking for it, too,” Barton said.

The plant has also benefited from converting to natural gas in the last year, reducing energy expenses.

“It was definitely a costsavings but it also helps the environment,” Barton said.

High performance fibers are used to make things like fireproof protective wear, bulletproof vest and other such specialty products.

The Whiteville plant is also a major player in the industry it was founded on –wool spinning.

“We process a lot of wool,” Barton said. “It’s a wonderful natural fiber.”

Barton sees a strong future in U.S. textiles.

China that once lured textile companies because of lower production costs and inexpensive labor no longer has the same appeal, Barton said.

“I have been five times to China. It’s not cheap to manufacture there anymore,” Barton said. “China has a middle class now and they want to consume what they make.”

Countries like Cambodia and Bangladesh are now picking up manufacturing that once took place in China.

“You are seeing more made in Cambodia and Bangladesh,” Barton said.

“So much is developing in the textiles and the U.S. is still the world’s leader in development and innovation,” Barton said.

National Spinning works with a number of reputable business partners, suppliers and fiber producers and end users like DuPont, as it grows its specialized textile manufacturing.

“One of the biggest opportunities is in carbon fiber technology –protective clothing, aircraft and transportation sectors,” Barton said.

Other suppliers include AKSA, Chargeurs, Dralon, Kaltex and Zoltek – to name a few. Customers include Fox River, Gildan, Gold Toe, Hanes Brands and many more.

Barton said Southeastern Community College played a big role in training programs as the plant evolves.  SCC tapped into available funding to provide the service at no cost.

“They have been wonderful to work with,” Barton said.

He hopes the perception of textile jobs evolves with the industry.

“There was a time when going to work in a mill was a derogatory statement but we have some of the higher paying jobs in the area,” Barton said of pay rates that for some exceed $20 an hour.

The company’s workforce is one with a lot of experience in the industry.

“There is a very good work ethic in this community for the most part,” Barton said.  “The employees understand how to produce a quality product and know to ‘do it right’ the first time. That’s something they are very good at.”

Employees share in the company’s success.

“We are 51 percent employee owned,” Barton said. “That itself instills pride and ownership. The employees have stock and are issued shares.  The stock value has gone up substantially because of new developments.”

The company has also taken measures in recent years to motivate its employees to be healthy.

A physician assistant comes to the plant, meets with employees, provides health advice and wellness support as part of a company wellness plan. Health insurance is provided, among other benefits.

The company is looking to launch an apprenticeship program in collaboration with SCC in hopes of attracting a new generation of workers to the textile industry that is constantly evolving with new technology.

Founded in 1921 by Phillip and Carl Leff, National Spinning went public for about 10 years in the 1960s-70s. It became ESOP company in the 1990s.

Originally, wool yarn was manufactured in Jamestown, NY and sales were based in the Northeast and  Midwest, but the company expanded greatly during the era of synthetics.

In the 1950s and 1960s the company built new facilities and relocated its manufacturing to North Carolina.  In the early 21st century it acquired Hampton Art, a manufacturer of paper-based products sold to craft stores.  In 2012 the firm acquired Carolina Nonwovens, a producer of nonwoven fabrics for a wide variety of industrial end-uses.

Today National spinning operates two spinning facilities, one dyeing plant, a fiber-blending facility, a distribution center, a nonwoven facility, and offices throughout North Carolina, New York, and Central America.

Yarn products of the firm are sold worldwide but other divisions sell mainly domestically.

For more on National Spinning visit their website at natspin.com.

 

By Nicole Cartrette, Staff Writer for The News Reporter