Today, growth in North Carolina's textile industry is focused more on the research and development of high-tech textiles such as clothing that can heat and cool the wearer's body, acoustic textiles for symphony halls, and textiles for the military, Walden says.
Taking a new path
After Brandy Hussey, 28, was laid off twice from a small hosiery mill in Star, 15 miles away, she enrolled in a two-year continuing education program at Sandhills Community College. She's a team leader at Situs now — and making more money. "I get to do more of what I enjoy doing," Hussey says. "It gives me the opportunity to use what I learned from college."
Hussey says she "probably would have kept working in the mill" if she hadn't learned about a state workforce-development program. "I thought it was too good an opportunity to pass up," she says. Hussey, who says most of her family and friends worked in textile mills, sometimes finds it challenging to explain her current job. "I tell them about it," she says. "But I don't think they fully understand what I do."
The Situs offices — in the former headquarters building of Candor Hosiery Mill, whose six factories in this area once produced over 15 million socks per week — often draw people who are curious or job hunting, says Jennifer Lang, a managing director. "They ask, 'What do y'all make here? Do you have any jobs?' " she says. "The easiest way (to answer) is to say we make spreadsheets for banks."
Situs employees here perform real estate analysis for commercial and investment bankers such as Wells Fargo and UBS. The company laid off 20 people here after losing a contract in December but is now preparing to hire up to 10 people.
English, the mayor, says officials are trying to get Robbins declared part of a federal Historically Underutilized Business Zone, which would provide tax incentives to new businesses coming into the area. Those businesses would be required to hire area residents, he says.
Situs received $150,000 in state matching funds to help it launch the location here, says Steven Bean, a managing director and Robbins native who was pivotal in getting the company to locate here.
Prayer was answered
Robbins is in the northern end of Moore County, and it seems a world away from the county's southern end, home of the thriving community of Southern Pines and the golfing resort of Pinehurst, which will host the 2014 Men's and Women's U.S. Opens. The Moore County unemployment rate for May was 8.6%, below the state average of 9.4%, according to the Labor and Economic Analysis Division of the North Carolina Department of Commerce; it's above 10% in Robbins, according to English.
So Situs' arrival was something of a miracle, says Mickey Brown, the mayor for 14 years until 2007. "We had lost upward of 2,500 jobs in textiles, furniture-making and poultry processing over a 10- to 15-year period," he says. "Like a lot of other small towns, we had lost the things that sustained us for so many decades."
In 2006, during an ecumenical service involving eight local churches, Sherri McNeill went to the altar and asked for divine help in bringing jobs to Robbins.
"When I got home, I found out my cousin Steven (Bean) was coming home to see his parents," says McNeill, 49, wife of the Rev. Kenneth McNeill, pastor of First Baptist Church here. "We had never had Steven and his wife over for dinner, but I said to my husband, 'Let's have them over.' "