LUMBERTON — Hurricane Matthew has claimed another victim.
It was announced officially Wednesday that Alamac American Knits in Lumberton is closing its doors in two months, forcing 154 workers to look for new jobs in a textiles manufacturing market that has been on the decline for years.
“We’ve been having our challenges in the past couple of years, but we were creating a turnaround,” said Mark Cabral, president of Alamac Investors LLC and the company’s chief operating officer. “But Matthew put us in a tailspin. We have been fighting since October, but things just became too overwhelming for us to continue.”
Floodwaters from Hurricane Matthew never entered Alamac’s 415,000-square-foot manufacturing building at 1885 Alamac Road, which sits on a 148-acre property. The water that got into the building was rainwater that entered after a 30,000-square-foot piece of roofing blew away in the storm.
“We never had floodwaters in that building,” he said. “It was built in 1962 when buildings were really built well. That building was built four or five feet above flood level.”
Repairs to the roof and to damaged electrical equipment played a big part in the need to close down, said Cabral, who has worked with Alamac for 42 years. The plant was idled and production came to a halt.
But there were other considerations. Declines in the company’s two niche markets, uniform trade and flame retardant protective fabrics, also were key factors in the decision.
It has been a struggle for the company since it located here, according to Cabral and Greg Cummings, Robeson County’s economic developer and industrial recruiter.
“When we arrived here our industry was running to Asia,” Cabral said. “But we focused on markets we believed we still had.”
“In 2001 the environment was not supportive of textiles, but our niche markets worked,” he said. “For 17 years, about 30 percent of our company’s history, we expanded the life of Alamac. Thirty percent is pretty good.”
Alamac constantly had to fight the international global market, Cummings said.
“They had to fight China, Central America and Canada,” he said. “And they won. For them it was all about ‘Made in America’ or you never fail until you stop trying.”
Alamac’s closing is “very sad news for the state and county,” Cummings said.
“But even more, it is more hurtful for the employees who believed in the American dream,” he said.
The company and the North Carolina Department of Commerce will be assisting and preparing employees to find new employment, Cabral told The Robesonian late Wednesday afternoon. All vendors and creditors will be paid in full.
“We would not have lasted so many years in Lumberton if it had not been for our employees,” he said. “I can’t say enough about our employees. Robeson County has a lot of good workers.”
Cabral also attributed his company’s success to the support from the city of Lumberton, Robeson County and the community in general.
“The most difficult thing about this whole ordeal is people,” Cabral said. “There are not many people you can talk to in Lumberton who at one time or another did not have a family member who worked for us. At one time we employed 1,000. Of course that was back in the 80s and 90s. That was before NAFTA.”
Cabral said his immediate goal is to see that company employees and customers are taken care of during the shutdown process.
“We don’t want anyone to be hurt,” he said.
While they were surprised when told Tuesday about the shutdown, employees knew the fight to stay afloat in the current state of the global market has been difficult for more than 15 years.
“They know we tried to do the best we could to stay competitive,” Cabral said.
Once employees and customers are taken care of efforts to find a use for the building can move forward. Cabral said he hopes there might be a joint venture with another textile company, or another type of manufacturing company. A warehousing venture is also a possible use for the building.
Cummings said the property could become economic bait. The building is more than 400,000 square feet with ceilings 25 to 30 feet high, and has water, sewer and natural gas on site, all of which he said are coveted by companies looking to do business.
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.