Steve McManus, innovation advisor at RTI International

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Charles Heilig, president at Parkdale

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Steve McManus, innovation advisor at RTI International

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AFFOA, partners hold convening on workforce development study

Posted November 10, 2021


BELMONT, N.C. – Advanced Functional Fabrics of America (AFFOA) and some of its partners – including N.C. State, the Manufacturing & Textile Innovation Network (MTIN) and RTI International – held the first of two textile manufacturing convenings Tuesday on the Textile Technology Center’s Kimbrell Campus here.


The event, which focused on technology and innovation, is part of a workforce development study to determine the level of readiness N.C. textile manufacturers have to meet current and future workforce development needs. Attendees also toured the TTC’s manufacturing facilities and lab and testing areas.


During the convening, executive leaders of Unifi, Inc. and Parkdale shared stories of their respective company’s technological transformations to adapt to a changing workforce and labor challenges. Speakers included Edmir Silva (virtually), brand sales, market & concept development director at Unifi, Inc., Greensboro, N.C., and Charles Heilig, president at Parkdale, Gastonia, N.C.

Silva discussed Unifi’s transformation since its founding 50 years ago, from a primarily staple fiber producer to a manufacturer with a more consumer-focused brand (REPREVE®) of recycled fibers made from plastic bottles. He covered the company’s sustainability journey and the digital transformation Unifi is undergoing to advance technologically.


Heilig went over how Parkdale transformed from predominately a cotton yarn spinner expand its repertoire and launch sustainable brands CiCLO, an ingredient that allows polyester to naturally biodegrade; and dytru, a revolutionary polyester fiber that uses advanced textile technology to deliver increased dyeing capacity at a lower processing cost. He shared the process required to put together its Advanced Materials Team to lead these efforts.


Heilig also talked about how Parkdale is working with a European OEM on automated technology that is enabling the company to ameliorate the labor shortage issue.


Steve McManus, innovation advisor at RTI International, which facilitated the event, presented high-level results of the survey of textile manufacturers. Among findings: A high level of interest exists in collaborating to solve workforce challenges, and professional and interpersonal skills are generally more important than technical skills, he advised. Full results will be available soon, he said.


The interactive event also included a Q&A session with attendees, most of whom tuned in virtually and offered valuable big-picture insights and strategies into recruiting new talent.

Part 2 of the convening will focus on workforce development and apprenticeships and will take place in February.


Bigger picture, the survey is part of the Department of Defense’s Office of Local Defense Community Cooperation (OLDCC) announcing in August that the state of North Carolina was selected to receive the designation as one of five “Defense Manufacturing Communities” in the nation during FY2020.


Read more about this designation here.

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