Textile Corporation expansion is biggest investment ever in Bledsoe County

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, center, talks about the $27.1 million investment a new textile company is making in Pikeville to create 1,000 jobs. With Haslam, from left, are Pikeville Mayor Philip "Winky" Cagle, Bledsoe County Mayor Gregg Ridley and Troy King, chief legal counsel for Textile Corporation of America.

PIKEVILLE, Tenn. - Twelve years after Bledsoe County lost its biggest private employer when Dura Automotive shut down its 580-employee plant here, the shuttered plant soon will reopen as a textile operation employing nearly twice as many people.

Textile Corp. of America announced Monday it will make the biggest private investment ever in Bledsoe County, spending $27.1 million to buy and upgrade the vacant 186,000-square-foot factory building in Pikeville, the county seat of Bledsoe County, with a population last year estimated at only 1,648 residents.

The new company, which is owned by Chattanooga dev­eloper and businessman Ed Cagle, plans to start production of apparel, bedding and linens this fall. Officials said they hope to quickly increase the staff to 1,000 employees and begin hiring and training workers in the next month or so.

"When it came time to bring textile manufacturing back to America again, this community was hands down the first choice," said Troy King, a former attorney general for Alabama who is chief legal counsel for the company. "We believe this represents the renaissance of America, the return of America as a global manufacturing center."

The textile manufacturer will locate its headquarters on the 16-acre site here and install what it says is state-of-the-art machinery to produce industrial and institutional textile products, including apparel, kitchen linens and bedding for the healthcare and hospitality industries. The leadership of the new business has more than four decades of experience working around the globe, and Cagle said in a statement he is eager to bring production back to the United States.

"We are proud to call Pikeville, Tenn., home to our new mill," said Cagle, owner of Cagle & Associates in Chattanooga and a builder of Family Dollar stores and other commercial projects across the country. "Millions of dollars of investment and the creation of thousands of jobs will be transformative for this county and region."

The company looked at sites in several states for the textile plant before buying the abandoned Dura Automotive facility earlier this month for $850,000.

"A thousand jobs in any community is big news, but it is especially welcome in Bledsoe County," Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said in announcing the project Monday afternoon at the plant site. "I know some people worry that we no longer make things in America, but we still make things in Tennessee, and this is a great example for Bledsoe County and all of Tennessee."

King said the new plant should be in production by October.

"It's a very ambitious and aggressive timeline, but we're ready to go to work and ready to put people to work," said King, who said the company soon will begin screening applicants through the state's Career Centers. "If it is made out of cotton and textiles, we can make it here. We have a president who is putting an emphasis on "Made in America," and we think the timing is right for this now."

Unemployment in Bledsoe County fell in May to 4.5 percent, its lowest level in nearly 15 years. But Bledsoe still had the fifth highest jobless rate of Tennessee's 95 counties in the most recent state jobs report.

Bledsoe County Mayor Gregg Ridley said he has been working for virtually his entire term as county mayor to recruit a replacement for Dura Automotive, which shut down shortly after he became mayor and helped push the county's jobless rate up during the Great Recession to as high as 14.1 percent.

Ridley said the biggest private employer of Bledsoe County residents today is the La-Z-Boy plant in Rhea County, but the Textile Corporation of America should soon become the biggest private employer in the county. With a monthly payroll of more than $1 million, Ridley said the new plant should pump more than $35 million a year into the local economy.

With its corporate headquarters and 1,000 jobs, Textile Corporation of America will qualify for state-funded job training, infrastructure and headquarters incentives, and TVA will offer assistance through its economic development programs. Bob Rolfe, commissioner of economic and community development, said the investment also helps the Haslam administration's effort to spread economic growth of the state into rural areas. But Rolfe said it is too early to detail all of the tax breaks and financial incentives state and local governments offered the business to lure it to Pikeville.

The project represents one of the biggest new textile job generators so far in 2017 and is part of a growing trend of "re-shoring" investment back into the United States after decades of moving textile and apparel production offshore where land and labor is usually far cheaper.

Jeff Price, president of the specialty fabrics division of Milliken & Co. and chairman of the National Council of Textile Organizations, said the U.S. textile industry "is on sound footing" and growing again after decades of decline. Since 2009, the industry has grown more than 14 percent, Price said.

"Emerging from the depths of a severe national recession, the U.S. textile sector has rebounded," he wrote last year in the industry publication Textile World. "Now, the challenge is both to sustain this impressive recovery and to find viable ways to generate a new era of growth."

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6340.