‘LUMBERTON — After every storm there’s sure to be some sunshine..
That’s what Greg Cummings, Robeson County’s economic developer and industrial recruiter, is counting on in the wake of last week’s news that Alamac American Knits is closing the doors of its manufacturing plant in Lumberton in two months. The closure is forcing the company’s 154 workers to look for new jobs in a textiles manufacturing market that has been on the decline for years.
Cummings is hopeful that the displaced workers can find jobs with another local textile manufacturer that has been successfully swimming against the tide, and he also believes Alamac’s abandoned building is strong bait to bring in another industry.
According to Cummings, only two textile mills remain in Robeson County, Contempora Fabrics and Kayser-Roth Corporation. Alamac’s motto, he said, was “Made in America, or “You never fail until you stop trying.”
“This is very sad news for the state and county. But most of all it is more hurtful for the employees who believed in the American dream,” Cummings said.
Cummings and Mark Cabral, president of Alamac Investors LLC and the company’s chief operating officer, both told The Robesonian that efforts by the company, the state Department of Commerce, and other agencies are already under way to prepare employees to find new employment.
Some employees are likely to find jobs with Alamac’s nearby “friendly competitor,” Contempora Fabrics, according to Ron Roach, president of Contempora.
“After the next 60 days passes we plan to talk with as many of their workers as we can,” Roach said. “We would be crazy not to. They have some very good workers.”
Roach said that his company, which currently has a workforce of about 180, is doing very well in an industry that is extremely competitive.
“We have been doing better in the past three years than we have at anytime since the 1990s,” he said. “There are now only 10 or 12 major textile mills — of which Alamac was one and we are one — still operating in the United States.”
Alamac and Contempora each has its own niches in the textile industry. While Alamac’s niche markets are uniform trade and flame retardant protective fabrics, while Contempora makes fabrics used to produce team and performance group clothing.
While acknowledging that Contempora will most likely get some additional business as a result of the closing of Alamac, Roach said he would rather see a “solid textile industry in the United States.”
“It’s not especially beneficial for us losing another textile mill,” he said. “We need to show that the textile industry in the U.S. is solid if we are to attract business.”
Cummings is optimistic he can find a tenant for the soon-to-be-empty 415,000-square-foot building that sits on a 148-acre tract at 1885 Alamac Road. He believes the building with its 25-to-30-feet tall ceilings and water, sewer, electric and natural gas on site will be attractive.
“If I had known two months ago that Alamac was going to close, I could have put a business in that building,” he said. “A large building with high ceilings and water, sewer, electric and natural gas on site is what companies looking for a place to locate and do business want.”
Cabral also is optimistic that a use for the building will be found quickly. He said he would like to see a joint venture with another textile company or another type manufacturing company. A warehousing venture is another possible use for the property, he said, but added that warehousing would not employ as many people as a manufacturing business.
The job losses will add to Robeson County’s unemployment rate, which was 6.8 percent in March, the 10th highest among the state’s 100 counties.
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.