"Our work is being noted by the highest level of the Administration and on national news. Now is not the time for the industry to be on the sidelines – we must be engaged in Washington, D.C. There is simply too much at stake."
NCTO Chairman &
President, CAP Yarns
NCTO Chair Roberts outlines goals as industry faces another critical year
Posted July 16, 2020
Editor’s note: Following is a Q&A with David Roberts, who was recently elected chairman of the National Council of Textile Organizations (NCTO) by its board. Roberts, president of CAP Yarns, Clover, S.C., responded to questions submitted by eTC Publisher Devin Steele.)
eTC: David, you’re following in the footsteps of Glen Raven CEO Leib Oehmig as NCTO chairman. Please speak to Leib’s leadership and his efforts on behalf of the NCTO and the industry.
Roberts: Leib did an outstanding job of serving as NCTO’s chairman for more than 14 months. He willingly served an extra two and a half months in the role this year beyond his term limit, due to the postponement in late March of NCTO’s annual meeting and board elections stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.
While we are always intensely focused on policy issues, it is possible that Leib’s greatest accomplishment was not only helping steer the industry through this crisis but also overseeing the successful transition to a new NCTO President & CEO – Kim Glas. I know that Leib worked very closely with Kim to ensure that she was well positioned and enabled to have a successful inaugural year, which proved to be challenging during these uncertain times.
With that said, Leib also provided invaluable leadership on critical policy matters that have significant ramifications for our entire membership. For example, NCTO took a very active role in pressing for the adoption of the United States-Mexico-Canada-Trade Agreement (USMCA). It was critical to get this done to restore certainty and stability to the North American trading relationship that accounts for over $11 billion in U.S. textile exports each year.
Fighting an expansion of the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), preserving the Berry Amendment, the continued China 301, and now all the issues associated with our needs to expand Made in USA PPE production, has made it a significant year on many fronts.
Without a doubt, NCTO members owe Leib a debt of gratitude for his service during the past 14 and a half months.
eTC: At this point in your career and at this juncture of the industry’s history, why is it important to you to lead the industry’s national trade association?
Roberts: First of all, it is an honor to be elected as NCTO chairman by my peers. As someone who has spent his entire career in textiles, this is a small way in which I can give back to an industry that has done so much for me.
This is a critical juncture for our industry as we seek to shape policies that will allow the textile industry to navigate the current health and economic crisis as we work to secure a long-term strategy to expand and maintain domestic production of personal protection equipment (PPE). Many in our industry are on the forefront on PPE; it’s paramount that we make these lifesaving products onshore long after the pandemic is over.
Secondly, we as an industry regained a strong position in the global textile marketplace in 2019. Billions of dollars of investment have flowed into the domestic textile sector each year. We also became the second largest exporter of textile-related product in the world. With the dedicated work of the association staff and a committed group of industry leaders, we will diligently work to realize policy goals aimed at sustaining growth and innovation and incentivizing domestic production.
It’s my turn to pitch in and do my part to help meet the many challenges that face our sector in Washington.
eTC: You are taking the chairman’s reins during the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis, of course. Please speak to the council’s recent work to address the PPE shortage, connect industry entities that may not have worked together in the past and nimbleness in answering our nation’s call.
Roberts: Under the leadership of Kim Glas, NCTO moved swiftly to address the burgeoning health and economic crisis that erupted on a scale the world has never seen.
Working with industry leaders, NCTO has played a critical role in bringing together the entire domestic PPE supply chain while also closely coordinating with White House advisers and various government agencies to get vital PPE product to frontline workers battling the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kim and the NCTO team coordinated with industry associations to build a PPE supplier database to quickly disseminate information on a network of textile suppliers that were pivoting virtually overnight to produce critical medical textiles.
She also contributed to a broader strategy of connecting textile producers with hospitals, medical facilities and health care organizations, all of which were urgently seeking critical PPE supplies, while tirelessly working with NCTO member companies to navigate the complicated government procurement application process.
I will step into this role ready to address the challenges confronting the industry and prepared to work with a tireless leader who has already laid the groundwork for the industry’s progress in this space.
eTC: As we’re still in the throes of the pandemic, your goals for the NCTO probably changed in recent months from what they may have been when you were originally scheduled to move into the chairman’s role in March. That said, what are your primary internal organizational goals for NCTO?
Roberts: COVID-19 has demonstrated NCTO as a critical leader on issues, and as the chairman, I want to see the organization continue to grow our membership and relevance on Capitol Hill. This challenge creates an enormous opportunity for us to help strengthen the organization long-term and I am really pleased to see this organization at the forefront.
eTC: As a follow up, what are your primary external organizational goals for NCTO, especially as the Trump administration works to enact and implement its policy priorities – AND especially the work the council is making to ensure our country doesn’t find itself in a situation again where a shortage in PPE occurs?
Roberts: Obviously, we need to acknowledge that the coronavirus will continue to pose a unique set of challenges in the coming months. First and foremost, this is a humanitarian crisis and it needs to be solved for that reason as soon as feasible. Secondly, like every other sector of the economy, the virus is impacting textile supply chains and demand for orders. NCTO will be working with the White House and Congress on common sense initiatives needed to ease burdens on manufacturers and employers and to establish long-term domestic PPE supply chains.
In that light, we certainly urge our elected officials to work in in a bipartisan fashion to address the unique problems confronting manufacturers and society as a whole as a result of this very serious situation.
Beyond the challenges posed by the coronavirus, NCTO will remain diligent in its advocacy role.
Sometimes our engagement involves proactive support. That was certainly the case with USMCA. Other instances, like the proposed GSP expansion mentioned earlier, require full opposition. Regardless, all our advocacy activities require the need to nurture relationships with the Administration and key congressional offices. Maintaining these important relationships is a lot of work in and of itself.
Further we need to continue to communicate an accurate picture of the industry’s PPE efforts and its important contribution to the U.S. economy to policymakers and the press. In order to secure good policy determinations, the people who make those decisions must be fully aware of the enormous contribution our modern industry provides to the national economy and to so many local communities where textile facilities are located.
eTC: Tell us a little about your background and the evolution of the industry you’ve witnessed over your career.
Roberts: I was born and raised in a textile mill village in Shelby, N.C., and then went to N.C. State University and received my B.S in Textile Technology. This was followed by two years at UNC-Chapel Hill for my M.B.A. In July of 1978 I started my working career in the textile industry and have just this month begun my 43rd year. The industry has been very good to my family, including three generations before me who earned their livelihood in textiles.
I have been very fortunate during my career to have worked in many sectors of the textile industry, having gained experience in yarn manufacturing, weaving, knitting, dyeing and finishing. All of these areas have evolved dramatically over my four plus decades. I remember the double-knit boom and bust, the first wave of major modernization in the ’70s and ’80s, and the leveraged buyout craze in the ’80s and ’90s.
Many factors have shaped the industry but none have impacted U.S. textiles more than our country’s trade policies. Opening up our markets to China and the rest of Asia have been responsible for the collapse of much of the textile industry during the past 30 years. The passage of NAFTA followed by the Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act (CBTPA) and Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) helped stabilize certain sectors. USMCA has now been passed as the successor to NAFTA and it is highly likely that CBTPA will be renewed by the end of this year.
And now COVID-19. The impact on our industry from this continuing global crisis will be dramatic in ways still to be determined.
eTC: How will your perspective benefit NCTO as you chair the organization?
Roberts: Well, I have seen just about everything over my career. Good times and unfortunately some bad. It’s tough when you experience a business contraction and workers are displaced. You never want to go through that. As a result, I’m highly motivated to give my time and energy in service to NCTO’s members in hopes of creating a better overall policy and business environment for domestic textile manufacturers.
eTC: Now that the USMCA is passed, and in addition to the PPE issue, what do you see as some of the industry’s other big challenges in the coming year and what is the correct industry response to these?
Roberts: There are numerous organizations and entities in Washington that are promoting agendas that are extremely averse to the interests of domestic textile producers, unfortunately. I mentioned the GSP issue earlier, and not to belabor the point, being pushed by the importing community.
The GSP expansion proposal would give duty-free treatment to textile and apparel exports from countries like Cambodia, Indonesia and Pakistan. These concessions would not be reciprocal, so we as the U.S. industry get nothing in return. Further, the Asian suppliers that qualify under the GSP program almost always use Chinese fibers, yarns and fabrics as inputs.
As a result, at a time when we are trying to reign in China’s immense impact in our market, they will get a backdoor benefit through this ill-conceived proposal. I am proud of the work NCTO has been doing and know our hemispheric trade partners and their industries have been very engaged and opposed to any expansion.
Beyond GSP, we will push for renewal of the CBTPA, which will continue to strengthen the Western Hemisphere textile production chain. We also will support a balanced Miscellaneous Tariff Bill (MTB) to help reduce costs on inputs that are not available in the U.S but we continue to oppose tariff relief on finished products. Regrettably, more than 75% of the textile, apparel, footwear and travel goods petitions submitted in the MTB process this year were for end items.
In addition, we need to educate Congress and the administration on what policy proposals are needed to onshore PPE. Supply chains that were created in the midst of a crisis do not evaporate as soon as the crisis is over. Getting the right policies in place will take our collective membership.
In addition, our sector is not immune to the impacts across manufacturing as a result of the economic downturn. We will continue to be fighting hard in Stimulus 4 and beyond for relief to help our industry recover.
Beyond the Congressional calendar for the remainder of this year that will include some of the key priorities stated above; it is also possible the Trump administration will begin new trade negotiations with the United Kingdom and Japan that will require NCTO’s engagement.
These are just a few of the policy items that will occupy NCTO over the next several months.
eTC: What is your elevator speech on why domestic textile companies and their supply chain partners should become a part of NCTO?
Roberts: It is just an amazing value for what is a relatively minimal expense. If we as individual companies attempted to replicate the work done by NCTO, it would be exponentially more expensive. By pooling our resources, we minimize our expense and we maximize our effectiveness. By speaking with a united voice, we have a far more powerful reach than any one company could muster on its own.
Further, we owe it to our workers and the communities that are dependent on our production facilities to be fully engaged in Washington. We simply must do everything in our power to construct government policies that make it feasible to produce textiles in this country. NCTO is the vehicle by which we, as an industry, undertake this critical activity. Anyone that has an interest in the success of the U.S. textile industry simply should be a fully committed and an active member of NCTO.
Our work is being noted by the highest level of the Administration and on national news. Now is not the time for the industry to be on the sidelines – we must be engaged in Washington, D.C. There is simply too much at stake.
eTC: As something of an aside but an interesting tidbit, you played football under legendary Coach Lou Holtz at N.C. State in the mid-1970s. Tell us about some of the lessons he imparted on becoming a great leader and how some of words of wisdom have stuck with you, as a textile industry leader, through the years.
Roberts: Coach Holtz was a dynamic leader and an incredible motivator. He expected nothing less than 100% commitment, loyalty, and effort at all times. He had a remarkable wit about him as well as a photographic memory. Many of his original quotations are legendary. Here are a few of my favorites:
“Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you respond to it.”
“Don’t tell me how rocky the seas are, just bring the darn ship in …”
“When all is said and done, more is said than done.”
“Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.”
I consider myself quite fortunate to have spent four college years with Coach Holtz as a mentor.