Roby visits Frontier Yarns
The deterioration of the American textile industry has been tough on central Alabama, but one plant continues to thrive.
New second district U.S. Rep. Martha Roby (R-Montgomery) visited the Frontier Yarns spinning mill in Wetumpka Tuesday and received a lesson on the challenges affecting the remnants of the domestic textile industry.
“It’s a fantastic experience to be here, to learn about the industry’s needs and concerns,” Roby said after touring the plant.
Roby said the new Republican House leadership has scheduled the session to allow more visits to home districts to stay informed of the concerns of constituents.
Frontier Yarns’ spinning mill on Central Plank Road produces 1.2 million pounds of fiber each year, which goes into many of the clothing items Americans wear daily. It employs 125 people.
At mills in Central and South America, the yarn is spun into T-shirts, socks and underwear that will bear the label of Haynes, Fruit of the Loom and others.
CEO John Bakane details the challenges facing the textile industry, as tax pressures and globalization shrink the competitiveness of American textile mills.
Frontier’s 125 Wetumpka employees make an average of $15.89 per hour, he said, including benefits.
“Slide that decimal point over and that’s what we’d pay in China, about $1.50 an hour,” Bakane said.
The main benefits of American plants, of which Frontier has seven in Alabama, Georgia and North Carolina, is lower electricity costs. But Bakane said he worries that legislative and federal agencies might upset that balance by increasing energy costs with regulations that seek to reduce greenhouse emissions.
Health care reform, he said, threatens to boost labor costs further and increase the incentive to move jobs overseas.
“Monetary and fiscal policy has already driven cotton prices through the roof,” he said. “If we see medical costs go up $1 per hour, you’re blown out of the water.”
Roby said her commitment “is to make sure you’re listened to.”
“I?can’t advocate for you if I don’t know your concerns,” she said, urging Bakane to keep in touch.
Local plant manager Matt Hardegree gave Roby a tour of the sprawling 250,000 square foot facility. Employees monitor the massive machines as they transform piles of loose cotton at the rear of the facility to compact spools of yarn.
Hardegree explained each step of the process over the roar of the machines, and Roby stopped to speak with employees Patricia Bethune and Darrell Powell.
Much of the cotton Frontier spins originates in Elmore County, and other materials come from northwest Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia, Bakane said.
The plant was originally built by Russell Corp., in 1991. After Russell began phasing out its Alabama operations, the plant closed, but Frontier Yarns moved in a short while later.
Bakane was also concerned about a free trade agreement with South Korea, which is due to be considered by Congress this session. He said the agreement could open the door for more Chinese products to come to America, putting further pressure on U.S. producers.
Roby also noted the power of the new “quasi-fourth branch of government,” agencies like the EPA?she said increase the burden on business with regulations that dodge congressional approval.
“But the name of the game for this congress is oversight, oversight, oversight,” she said, promising that Republican controlled House committees would make agency heads answer for their regulations.
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