UNION COUNTY: Standard TextileJul 03, 2017 02:24PM ● By Makayla Gay
By L.C. Leach III
In 2004, when Standard Textile of Cincinnati, Ohio, bought the old Pillowtex plant in Union County, the move seemed perplexing at first.
The textile industry across South Carolina had all but vanished, with no chance of regaining the once-great empire it had seen in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. And the Upstate was dotted with abandoned textile plants, including the twin tower ruins of Buffalo Mill less than five miles from the Pillowtex site.
But in the last 13 years, Standard Textile has not only been one of Union County’s most solid textile businesses, it has recently entered a new phase that promises more jobs, more expansion, and much more production for a long time to come.
“We currently have 106 employees at the Union facility, and more than 4,000 in 24 countries worldwide,” said Judy Sroufe, vice president of brand and communications at the company headquarters in Cincinnati. “And we are creating a model for the future of textile manufacturing in the U.S.”
That model includes vertical integration, smart technology by investing in automation, robotics and vision control systems, and utilizing the Internet of Things (IoT) to move data from company headquarters to any of its five manufacturing facilities – all of them in the southern United States.
“But the key ingredient in making all our Smart Manufacturing initiatives successful is our talented associates,” said Russ Ogle, Union plant manager since 2004. “We realize that technology helps create the opportunity, but it is our innovative associates at all levels working in a collaborative environment that truly makes it all happen.”
Since 2013, the Union facility has twice expanded – creating a total of 50 new jobs, increasing its size by 39,000 additional square feet, and allocating a further capital investment of more than $10 million.
These expansions, along with its yarn spinning, yarn preparation, weaving processes and ability to handle high volumes of cotton fiber orders, led Standard Textile to a milestone partnership in 2016 with Marriott International.
In a first for the U.S. hospitality industry, the hotel giant announced that it would provide “Made in USA” towels and bath mats in every guest bathroom in its more than 3,000 U.S. hotels, beginning in 2016.
Representatives from both Marriott and Standard Textile agreed on their shared interest in continuing to grow and support U.S. manufacturing – thereby creating an additional 150 jobs at Standard Textile’s facilities in Thomaston, Ga., and Union.
“We believe our guests appreciate knowing that even simple items they use every day in our hotels represent progress for the U.S. economy,” said Scott Mitchell, design and development director with Marriott International. “We also hope this sends a message to other businesses that buying locally can make business sense.”
Based on company estimates, once most of Marriott’s hotels completely switch to the new towels by the end of 2018, this long-term partnership with Standard Textile will mean the annual production of 2.6 million bath towels and 4.9 million hand towels.
If laid end-to-end, the textiles Marriott will purchase in one year would stretch more than 4,300 miles and weigh as much as much as 5.6 million pounds – and the effort has already gained the attention of hotel executive chairman Bill Marriott.
“I had the opportunity to see production in action when I visited [the plant] in Union,” Bill Marriott said. “They’ve been busy keeping up with the demand – and I could feel the energy there…with people taking pride in their efforts to create a quality product for our customers.”
The arrangement with Marriott is only the latest advancement for Standard Textile in Union.
In 2013, the company took steps to expand the operation with more than $2.5 million in capital investment, intended to generate 15 new jobs.
Then in 2014, the company expanded the operation again, with a $5 million capital investment and the creation of 35 more jobs.
And as Standard Textile turns 77 this year, the company currently has customers in more than 70 countries, including facilities in Jordan and China, and approximately $800 million in annual revenues – compared to $100 million in 1988 when the company had only one manufacturing facility.
As to its future in Union County, Standard Textile not only intends to remain a pacesetter, it looks to be a long, long way from the textile scrap heap.
“We have invested in automation, robotics and vision control systems to deploy smart technology, using interactive, sensored machinery and equipment that interacts with our associates and with each other,” Sroufe said. “And this is just the beginning.”