Can ‘America First’ help bring back the sock industry in Fort Payne?
February 6, 2017
Southern Torch (3535 articles)
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Can ‘America First’ help bring back the sock industry in Fort Payne?

PHOTO: A local hosiery mill recently added 442 jobs as part of Walmart’s effort to buy more American manufactured goods. 

By Tyler Pruett, Managing Editor

tyler@southerntorch.com

FORT PAYNE, Ala. — Recently, a Fort Payne sock mill signed a deal with the Walmart Corporation to provide athletic socks for the company’s locations across the country. The deal will create several hundred jobs in an industry that many thought was on the decline in area.

Fort Payne was known as the “Official Sock Capital of the World,” but a sharp downturn from from 2000 – 2010 called this nickname into question. In 2007, Fort Payne suffered one of it’s biggest blows when DeSoto Mills shutdown, losing another 220 sock manufacturing jobs.

The culprit? Companies moved their sock production overseas to utilize cheap labor to increase profits. Trade agreements signed in the 90’s, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) made the shipment of jobs overseas possible.

Fast forward to 2016, and one recurring theme of Donald Trump’s campaign has been to bring American jobs back and make American manufacturing a priority.

Earlier this month, The Renfro Corporation signed a deal with Walmart, which will create 442 new jobs in Fort Payne. The deal is part of an initiative by Walmart to invest in American manufacturing jobs and provide athletic socks to Walmart’s nationwide locations.

According to Walmart’s website, “Under the initiative, Walmart works with thousands of suppliers to help them gain access to the retailer’s shelves in stores and online. In the coming year, the program will continue to provide job-creating opportunities.”

Bud Kilby, President of the Renfro Corporation, was excited to sign the deal with Walmart and help bring hosiery jobs back to Fort Payne.

Renfro Corporation is a long-time partner with Walmart, supplying it socks since the 1970’s. Walmart was aware of Renfro’s U.S. manufacturing capacity and asked us to participate with it to create more jobs in the United States,” said Kilby, when asked about the deal with Walmart. 

“We have factories in Fort Payne, Alabama and Cleveland, Tennessee, and Renfro has continuously manufactured socks in the United States every year since its founding in 1921,” he added. 

“We have great people who are skilled and dedicated and who produce the finest quality socks made anywhere in the world. Creating more jobs in the U.S. benefits us all, and we are very pleased to be part of the growth in U.S. manufacturing,” said Kilby. 

While Walmart’s initiative has been ongoing for several years, other sock manufacturers from the area also report a heightened interest in American made goods.

“We’ve had more people contact us who are looking for American manufactured products in recent months,” said a spokeswoman for Shankles Hosiery, also located in Fort Payne.

On January 24, President Donald Trump Signed an executive order, titled, Streamlining Permitting and Reducing Regulatory Burdens for Domestic Manufacturing. This order is part of an effort by the administration to keep it’s campaign promise to bring American manufacturing jobs back.

The order states that it, “directs executive departments and agencies (agencies) to support the expansion of manufacturing in the United States through expedited reviews of and approvals for proposals to construct or expand manufacturing facilities and through reductions in regulatory burdens affecting domestic manufacturing.”

While there may still be work to be done in making American manufacturing more profitable than shipping jobs overseas, a crucial piece of the puzzle is to reduce costly regulations. 

“Renfro Corporation is very pleased and very proud to be able to manufacture many of its products in the U.S. and to continue to offer more jobs here. Many factors influence where hosiery products are made. It is Renfro’s intent to continue to support and to grow its U.S. manufacturing operations,” he added. 

It may be too early to tell which direction domestic manufacturing will go, namely the sock industry, but Kilby and the Renfro Corporation hopes the ‘Buy American’ trend will continue.

“We do have other customers that value and request products made in the USA. It is a trend that we hope grows,” he said.

Trump’s ‘America First’ policy may have drawn criticism since taking office, but something is desperately needed to keep the title of, “Sock Capital of the World” in the United States.

Southern Torch

Southern Torch

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