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Exploring the Textile Economy: North Carolina Leads Nation in Textile Manufacturing

Map of North Carolina

Above: This map of North Carolina shows the counties with textile companies across the state. Counties colored the lightest yellow have the lowest number of textile companies, while the counties shown in the darkest red have the highest number of textile companies. 

By Melissa Sharp and Sarah Stone

A new study makes it clear that North Carolina leads the way in textile manufacturing. The study, commissioned by the Wilson College of Textiles’ Zeis Textiles Extension and written by Dr. Michael Walden takes a deeper look at how textile and apparel manufacturing affect the state and U.S. economy. 

Over the coming weeks, a new series called Exploring the Textile Economy will explore textile and apparel manufacturing employment data and the larger impact these industries have on their local communities and the larger U.S. economy.

With 395 textile manufacturing establishments, and more than 25,000 employees, North Carolina is home to nearly 25% of all textile manufacturing employees in the U.S. Additionally, North Carolina exports $1.4 billion in textile goods globally, again leading the nation with nearly 20% of all U.S. textile exports.

Both the textile and apparel sectors are viable and significant parts of our economy.

Like many industries, textile companies faced economic challenges during the pandemic. Despite this, employment in textiles and apparel manufacturing remains strong; more than 36,000 companies provide jobs for nearly 500,000 workers across the U.S. Moreover, these companies offer competitive pay, with an average annual wage of $63,661. For context, the average manufacturing worker in the U.S. earns a $50,419 wage. Those in the retail and food service industries earn less than half the average U.S. textile wage, at $29,555. 

“Both the textile and apparel sectors are viable and significant parts of our economy,” Walden, William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor Emeritus at NC State, writes. “Hence, changes in the industries — either positive or negative  —  will have significant impacts on the national economy.” 

The economic impact of textiles investment is clear: 13 jobs are created for every $1 million increase in the U.S. textile manufacturing economy. That means if only 5% of the textile imports were to be displaced to on-shore production ($6.5 billion), 84,500 new jobs would be created, according to this report’s projections.  

This week’s installment is just a sneak peek into the textiles economy. The next installment will take a deeper look at the data and how textiles impact urban and rural economies.