Denim Mill Closing Is A Wakeup Call

We have heard the phrase “trickle-down economics” ever since Ronald Reagan was president from 1981 to 1988, and I always had a hard time understanding what that phrase meant. I kept envisioning a water faucet that was leaking – ultimately causing a big problem for whoever owned it. OK, I probably knew more than that. At any rate, I don’t know if the closing of the denim mill in Littlefield, Texas, is a victim of this kind of economic trend. But I do know that when cotton started losing market share to polyester a few years ago, it ultimately meant that mills previously using a lot of cotton would be in trouble.

When cotton prices went to $1.50 and higher just a few years ago, it might’ve seemed like a way for the farmer to reap the profits. But, that wasn’t the case at all. Ultimately, it drove a lot of mills toward man-made fibers, and now it’s a case of the U.S. cotton industry doing everything it can to recapture that demand. For the past few years, the National Cotton Council, Cotton Council International and Cotton Incorporated have launched a highly successful campaign called “Cotton Leads.” Its basic mission is to carry a message to all mills that the United States and Australia are doing their part to promote best management practices, superior quality in cotton production and sustainability.

The recapturing of that lost cotton market share won’t happen overnight, but this initiative is a step in the right direction. There is nothing more painful than watching a mill close down, causing irreparable hardship and economic problems for employees and families.

When I joined the National Cotton Council’s Communications staff in 1985, one of my first assignments was accompanying a group of overseas mill representatives on a two-week tour of U.S. cotton production and manufacturing. I will always remember how impressed this group was after it toured the denim plant in Littlefield.

It was one of the most technologically advanced manufacturing facilities I had ever seen. But, a lot of factors worked against this plant – cotton’s loss of market share and the cost of doing business in the United States as compared with overseas mills. That isn’t to say that denim mills can’t survive in this country. I also have toured the Mount Vernon denim mill in north Georgia, and it continues to survive – mainly because it has some lucrative contracts with specific customers.

No matter what the reason might be for the closure of the Littlefield mill, the impact on families will be traumatic until they find new employment. It’s one thing for a mill to close down in the middle of a big city where other job opportunities exist. It is a different story when a small town like Littlefield has depended on this one mill as its major employer.

For months, employees at the Littlefield mill had seen signs that this closure might be imminent. Periodic layoffs and cutbacks were an ominous signal of what might be ahead.

We can only hope that these employees will find job opportunities in Lubbock or elsewhere. With the strong support of the community, they will somehow survive. I know how this kind of pain can affect a person. When the Memphis Press-Scimitar newspaper closed down in 1983, I was one of many employees who had to start all over again. It was painful, but somehow I found another job after several months of searching. We have faith that these folks in Littlefield will find new employment and turn the page and move on. Our thoughts and prayers are with them as they go through these difficult times.

So, as we move into the holiday season, and as you gather around the dinner table with family and friends, think about what is happening in Littlefield. These folks need our help and support now more than ever.

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