Narricot sold

Published 7:39 am Monday, October 6, 2014

By Stephen Cowles

The Tidewater News

BOYKINS, VA – AEC Narrow Fabrics has confirmed that it purchased Narricot Industries early last week.

With it will bring changes in what’s made at the Boykins plant and how many people will be needed in the future. But before talking about what the purchase will mean for the employees and town of Boykins, AEC’s Larry Himes explained what his company produces.

“Our business at AEC is primarily apparel. We work exclusively in narrow fabrics, both rigid and elastic narrow fabrics. That’s all we do. No broad cloth,” said the chief executive officer.

He added that what AEC makes is used in underwear — such as the elastic waistbands — sleepwear, athletic wear, casual wear and hosiery. The company is based in Asheboro, NC, with two plants in that area and two in El Salvador and Honduras.

“Narricot does seat belts and narrow fabrics for the military primarily,” Himes said.

He also said that with the apparel markets all moving to Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America, that left AEC with the plants in North Carolina free to build a non-apparel business.

“ITG called me to discuss if we’d be interested in purchasing Narricot,” Himes said to explain how the company came to AEC’s attention.

Kenneth T. Kunberger, president and chief executive officer of International Textile Group, said, “We believe this is a great strategic move for the Narricot group and will provide immediate and future opportunities for growth. Narricot employees have worked tirelessly to improve the operations and technical elements of their products, and we believe that AEC’s expertise in narrow fabrics provides the best platform for Narricot’s future success.”

“What we saw was an opportunity to increase AEC’s industrial business,” Himes said. “What was so attractive to us was to acquire a presence in the industrial fabrics market and that’s what Narricot gave us.”

The nylon military fabrics aspect here is going to one of the plants in North Carolina.

“That will allow the Boykins plant to focus on seat belts and become streamlined, very focused. That operation we hope to grow significantly over the coming years,” Himes said.

The transition will take an estimated six to nine months, and he confirmed there will be job reductions. He was not sure of the numbers, but acknowledged it would be “a significant amount.”

But the announcement is not entirely bad news.

“Our business at Narricot is pretty good. Our seat belt business is growing and that could mitigate job loses,” Himes added. “We have an informed work force.”

The company’s purchase comes as no surprise to the employees. He was at the plant last week and talked with them as well as city and county officials.

“It’s the right thing for AEC,” Himes said. “We intend to invest in the plant by doing a lot of refurbishment. We are committed to Boykins and Virginia.”

Some reactions in town to the announcement are mixed.

Denise Byrum, co-owner of The Hungry Rooster, said she first heard about the sale through Narricot workers.

“A lot of employees come in and have lunch,” Byrum said, but she added that the change won’t necessarily harm her restaurant and lounge.

“I don’t think it’ll really affect us a lot. They get new people all the time.”

Walt Murphy in town said he’d heard people talking about a change two or three weeks ago.

“It’s the only job a lot people got here,” he said.

Debbie McManus of Boykins Beans and Ice Cream seemed surprised when told the news. She also gets business from employees.

“I hope they stay,” she said about the company and workers. “I hope they keep them employed as long as possible.”

Spier Edwards, mayor of Boykins, was taken aback at the announcement.

“It was devastating news, but it could have been worse,” he said. “It’s better to have something than nothing.

“I understand that the business from the federal government concerning the webbing and seat belts has gone down some. I think they were losing money. That’s why it was probably sold.”

Edwards said he had an “inkling” a few weeks ago that something was happening with the plant, but confirmation took place last week when he met with Himes and other company personnel.

“They seem to be very nice people. They’re small-town oriented. They want to bring back the seat-belt industry,” Edwards said.

On the issue of job losses, he figured that Narricot employs approximately 177 people, and that it would drop down to 90 or 80 employees.

“It’s bad that some people are losing their jobs. But maybe through the economic development department in Franklin they can help place these people that are going to lose their jobs,” Edwards said.

“But that’s better than closing the plant,” he added. “They’re there for the long-run. I think this company is going to be an asset.”

(Stephen Cowles is a Staff Writer for the Tidewater News (Franklin, VA), a sister publication of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald.)