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REGIONALREPORT Triad

Manufacturer finds itself in high cotton

As apparel manufacturing has moved offshore, the distance the average cotton T-shirt travels from farm to customer has reached 16,000 miles. Not only has outsourcing cost the state jobs, it creates a gigantic carbon footprint, says Eric Henry, president of Burlington-based TS Designs Inc. Considering the amount of cotton picked in North Carolina, the nation’s fourth-largest producer in 2010, Henry believes both consequences are unnecessary.

So in 2008, TS Designs, a T-shirt printer and dyer, launched its Cotton of the Carolinas brand, which sources everything — including cotton and manufacturing — within the state. It contracts Thurman Burleson & Sons Farm in New London, just outside of Asheboro, to grow cotton and Wendell-based Mortex Corp. to make shirts that it dyes and prints on a mostly made-to-order basis. “It only makes sense to bring production back to improve jobs and the environment,” Henry says. Cotton of the Carolinas has become TS Designs’ most popular brand, prompting the company to order 60,000 pounds of cotton this year, double last year’s order.

CEO Tim Sineath, 60, started TS Designs in 1977 in Graham after earning a master’s in product design from N.C. State University. About that same time, Henry opened a T-shirt screen-printing business in his dorm room at N.C. State before transferring to UNC Chapel Hill. They met through a mutual business acquaintance, and Henry left college before his senior year to become TS Designs’ president. At its peak, the company employed about 100 and printed T-shirts for Beaverton, Ore.-based Nike Inc. and other large companies. But when the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect in 1993, its big customers left in search of cheap labor in Latin America. “There were two business models at the time: Either you shut business up, or you partnered and went overseas,” Henry, 54, says.

Soon after, a fellow business owner introduced them to the triple-bottom-line idea, which values paying a livable wage and environmental friendliness as highly as making a profit. That resonated with Sineath and Henry, who agreed that relying on profit alone to sustain business obviously hadn’t worked. Their production process is more expensive, but sales — about $2 million last year — have nearly rebounded to pre-NAFTA levels, though the company directly employs only 17. And while Nike has yet to return, TS Designs has picked up different clients, such as Greenpeace.

Unconstitutional

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon’s ruling on a proposed U.S. Food and Drug Administration requirement that cigarette packs bear graphic anti-smoking images. Winston-Salem-based R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Greensboro-based Lorillard Tobacco Co. and three other tobacco companies sued the USDA last summer.

$100 million

Cost of Wake Forest Biotech Place, the largest capital-investment project in the history of downtown Winston-Salem. Baltimore-based Wexford Science & Technology LLC turned two former R.J. Reynolds buildings into the 242,000-square-foot R&D center for Piedmont Triad Research Park. Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, the largest tenant, will use its space for biotech research and as a business incubator.


 





Briefs

MOCKSVILLECarolina Precision Plastics will open a plant here, creating 140 jobs and investing $5.3 million within three years. The Stratford, Conn.-based company makes plastic packaging. The average annual salary will be $39,183, higher than Davie County’s average of $28,808.

WINSTON-SALEM — The City Council approved $1.8 million in incentives for coupon processor Inmar’s $62 million expansion of its headquarters. It would add 212 jobs to its 761. The Forsyth County Board of Commissioners also approved $1.1 million in incentives. The average annual wage would be $72,783, higher than Forsyth’s average of $41,912.

HIGH POINT Thomas Built Buses will add 50 workers to the 1,200 at its factory here and increase production due to greater demand for school buses. The company is a subsidiary of Portland-based Daimler Trucks North America.

BURLINGTON — Specialty-textiles manufacturer Burlington Technologies will add 110 jobs here to its 60 and invest $725,000 within three years to pursue a military contract

GREENSBORO Bennett College President Julianne Malveaux will step down May 6. Malveaux, an economist, author and public speaker, served for five years as the head of the historically black all-women’s private college. Chief Academic Officer Esther Terry will be interim president.