- From the 1840s until the Civil War, workers came from Ireland and Germany.
- From the 1880s through the 1920s, workers were Russian Jews and Italians.
- Up to the 1960s, workers were Puerto Ricans and black migrants from the South.
- Near the end of the century, workers were Chinese and Dominicans.
Production of textiles and apparel moved to low-wage states in the South. In the last years, much production moved off shore.
It is coming back for a number of reasons:
- Wages have gone up in China and other industrial centers
- Factory safety has become a big issue
- Shipping U.S. made products is faster and cheaper
- Turnaround time on new designs is faster
- Inventory can be quickly replaced
- Communication is easier
- American consumers want the quality of “Made in America”
This is all good news as the American economy struggles to recover.
The challenge is to find skilled workers to fill the jobs. Minnesota is home to a number of companies in the textile and apparel business. They are looking everywhere for workers with experience. They are starting training programs in colleges. They also are providing job training in their factories.
Language and math skills are crucial. Industrial sewing is a precision trade. Immigrants are seen as the new labor force. Recently workers from Burma and Ethiopia trained at a school in St. Paul.” Their goal is a certificate in sewing. Jobs will pay from $12 to $16 an hour, plus benefits.
Companies in North Carolina and Pennsylvania also are looking for workers. Said one expert, “Skills for a lot of different industries are coming back now. This includes machinists and automotive workers and sewers. I think if you have a skill when the economy gets bad, you are more likely to succeed than someone who does not.”