More than a third of Florida's apparel manufacturing jobs have vanished in the five years since NAFTA.
In 1969, Doris Hammond got a job at Jasper Textile in Hamilton County, working large industrial sewing machines. Paid by the piece, she learned to work quickly and rose to supervisor, making quality checks on the children's and women's clothing the plant shuttled out the door. This past August, however, the plant shut down, and Hammond is now a sales clerk at a nearby Wal-Mart, where she earns $5.50 an hour with no benefits. At Jasper, she had earned as much as $9.70. Many of her co-workers are still unemployed. The loss of the large employer hit the rural community hard. "I grew up at Jasper Textile," Hammond says.
Jasper Textile, which had employed as many as 250, isn't the only casualty. The same number of people once worked at Starke Uniform, which closed in October. Starke already had lost Vogue Manufacturing, which had 150 workers at its peak. In nearby Union County, Lake Butler Apparel moved operations to Nicaragua, wiping out as many as 350 jobs for locals.
Around the state, apparel jobs have dwindled quickly in the five years since the North American Free Trade Agreement kicked in. In 1993, there were 32,400 apparel jobs in Florida. Last September, there were 20,900. The closures are statewide, but especially heavy around Hialeah. The treaty is widely reviled in areas hit by plant closings. "There were some industries that benefited and some that haven't," says Lex Green, head of economic development in Bradford County. "This industry has been devastated in our community."
For apparel manufacturers, the issue is how to compete with low wages in Asia. "You can set up in Mexico and Central America, get your stuff moved down there fairly quickly and get it back on a store shelf in Pensacola faster than the guys from Asia can get it on a shelf," says Jack Morgan, spokesman for the Alexandria, Va.-based American Apparel Manufacturers Association. Companies pay workers in Mexico and Central America an average of 80 cents an hour.
Many of the Florida counties hit with big job losses don't have other big employers to turn to. Hamilton economic development officials are working to lure another manufacturer to the building vacated by Jasper Textile. Bradford's chamber of commerce held a job fair in November for displaced workers. A few companies, such as Jasper Textile, have tried to soften the blow by securing federal dollars to extend unemployment benefits and retrain workers. But Mike Switzer, Enterprise Florida's vice president of workforce programs, isn't too hopeful: "Retraining for what in their area? There's not always a growing game in town."
The rapid exodus of longstanding textile jobs underlines the need for communities to build a diversified job base. "As a matter of strategy, although it may not sound as impressive to have five employers employing 25 each, it is maybe better in the long run than a single employer employing 110," says Mary Helen Blakeslee, rural advocate for Florida's Office of Tourism, Trade & Economic Development. "The odds of all employers caving are less likely than a single employer."
...in the news
Gainesville -- Florida's 7.2 million acres of privately held forest are increasingly owned by absentee city dwellers who don't plan to harvest timber. More of these lands are being sliced into small parcels, according to a University of Florida School of Forest Resources and Conservation survey of 1,017 landowners. Sixty-four percent said they live away from the land and use it for recreation.
Jacksonville -- Yet another downtown office tower is changing hands. NationsBank Corp. plans to sell the 42-story Barnett Center it acquired when it bought Barnett Banks Inc. The buyer was not named. In 1998, four other downtown high rises changed hands or went to the selling block.
There's renewed talk of reopening the Jacksonville rail terminal near the Prime Osborn Convention Center to create a city transportation hub for rail, buses and modern mass transit.
Upscale grocery store chain Harris Teeter opened its first Florida store here. The North Carolina-based subsidiary of Ruddick Corp. plans to open two other north Florida stores -- one each in Ponte Vedra Beach and on Amelia Island.
Armed with $5 million from the U.S. Department of Labor, Goodwill Industries of North Florida Inc. is opening job centers for welfare recipients in Jacksonville Beach, Gainesville, Palatka and Lake City.
MediaOne Group, a Denver-based broadband cable service company with a regional office here, plans to build a new regional customer call center by the end of the year. The center will employ up to 400, including the 120 current positions.
Art patron and real estate developer Ira Koger is helping the Museum of Contemporary Art make its long sought after move downtown. Koger plans to buy the museum's current building to provide funding so the collection can move into the Times Union Performing Arts Center until it builds a permanent home downtown.
The St. Joe Co. (NYSE-JOE) plans to pay financier Carl Icahn $46 million for a 26% stake in Chicago-based real estate developer Arvida/JMB Partners. In late 1997, St. Joe created real estate management firm St. Joe/Arvida Co., a separate corporate entity from the recent transaction.
Forbes magazine listed four local companies among its top 200 small U.S. firms: Computer Management Sciences (Nasdaq-CMSX) at No. 104; Orthodontic Centers of America (NYSE-OCA), 119; Barnett Inc. (Nasdaq-BNTT), 161; and FPIC Insurance Group (Nasdaq-FPIC), 196. Barnett, a plumbing and electrical hardware distributor, is acquiring U.S. Lock for $33 million plus assumption of some debt. U.S. Lock distributes hardware for locksmiths and security firms. FPIC Insurance Group, which provides coverage to doctors, dentists and other healthcare providers, continues to expand rapidly. Its latest acquisition is Physicians' Reciprocal Insurers of New York, which insures 7,000 physicians. FPIC is offering $44 million in cash and $16 million in stock.
In yet another jobs cutback to hit the region, contact lens maker Vistakon, a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary and a large manufacturing employer, plans to lay off 940 workers over the next 18 months.
A Dutch manufacturer of oil filters has established its U.S. headquarters in Jacksonville. NTZ North America plans to employ about 50 within the next few months and open a 25-employee plant by next year.
Lake City -- CNB Inc., a community bank holding company that serves six rural northeast Florida counties, will move its headquarters to Jacksonville and expand services into the city. The company, with reported assets of $290.6 million, loans of $175 million and deposits of $249.2 million, has plans for a public offering (Nasdaq-CNBB) to fund further expansion.
Levy County -- In conjunction with neighboring Dixie and Taylor counties, and in part to counter the impact of the commercial net fishing ban, Levy likely will receive an additional two-year grant from the Ford Foundation, which has funneled more than $300,000 into the three-county region in the past four years to support economic development.
Macclenny -- Cornerstone Square Shopping Center, one of two shopping centers in the town, was purchased by Fort Lauderdale-based Lauderdale-Cornerstone LLC for $4.7 million from Guardian Life Co. of America.
Nassau County -- A $2 million, 18,000-sq.-ft. upscale grocery and retail center, Park Place, is expected to open this month on the southern end of Amelia Island. Another $7 million retail project is expected to get under way later this year.
St. Johns County -- Since the environmental group Guana Area/Intracoastal Network Inc. filed a complaint with the state that claims the county has not implemented the required land-use plans, county officials are being pushed to tighten growth management plans.
Suwannee County-- County officials approved plans for a cement plant near Ichetucknee Springs after heated public debate over water pollution concerns. If all other permitting goes through, construction of the plant, owned by the Anderson family of Old Town, will begin this spring.
A father-son dispute over how to divvy up the proceeds of last year's sale of Jacksonville's American National Bank to Alabama-based SouthTrust Corp. has been resolved. Raymond K. Mason Sr., American National's chairman emeritus and former chairman and CEO of Jacksonville's fabled The Charter Co., had challenged his son's claim to a special bonus of 97,000 shares of SouthTrust stock, valued at almost $4 million. An arbitrator awarded Raymond K. Mason Jr., American National's chairman and chief executive, 11,500 shares of SouthTrust stock. ... Arthur Andersen, one of Jacksonville's largest public accounting firms, has named its first female partner. Jeanette Dixon, a tax manager with Andersen for five years, is now the partner in charge of the firm's tax practice. Travis Storey, Arthur Andersen's managing partner in Jacksonville, says he doesn't believe there are any other female partners at any of the other Big Five accounting firms in Jacksonville. ... Mark Middlebrook, an assistant managing editor for special projects at the Florida Times-Union, is joining Jacksonville Mayor John Delaney's staff as a researcher and adviser concentrating on environmental issues, a topic of special interest to the Republican mayor.