Governor touts Rhode Island textiles industry during Richmond visit at Kenyon Industries

Governor touts Rhode Island textiles industry during Richmond visit at Kenyon Industries

The Westerly Sun

RICHMOND — Gov. Gina Raimondo took advantage of a meeting with members of the Rhode Island Textile Innovation Network to promote textiles as another sector of Rhode Island’s growing skilled manufacturing economy. The meeting took place Wednesday at Kenyon Industries, a fabric dyeing and finishing company that straddles the Richmond-Charlestown line.

A pioneer in the fabric industry from the days of the Industrial Revolution, Rhode Island is now home to approximately 60 companies that produce technologically advanced textiles which are used in diverse applications, including the military.

“We’ve been overlooking our potential in textiles,” Raimondo said. “It’s not old fashioned textiles, it’s not necessarily the Slater Mill that we all think of. This is a high-tech operation. These are putting sensors in textiles, smart textiles, advanced textiles.”

Raimondo said the textile industry was a promising source of good jobs for people with specialized training.

“These are good jobs, Rhode Island is very good at it, and we need to invest in it,” she said. “The skills gap means more training, the right kind of training, and acknowledge that this stuff is more technical, so we have to train people in the skills that they need.”

The network was created a little more than a year ago, when U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and other members of the Rhode Island Congressional delegation convened the state’s textile companies and urged them to form an association to preserve and promote their industry.

A steering committee of textile companies and representatives from the University of Rhode Island applied for funding to form the network and received $85,000 from the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation and $53,000 from the Department of Labor and Training.

One of the group’s first initiatives will be to survey textile manufacturers throughout the state to determine their needs and challenges, and a marketing and branding firm will be hired once the results have been compiled.

Michael Woody, Chief Executive Officer of the Cranston-based Trans-Tex LLC said the network had already fostered collaborations between the industry, academia and state government. Woody stressed the need to train Rhode Islanders for jobs in his industry and attributed the lack of interest in textiles jobs to an outdated image.

“Part of the skills gap has to do with the misperception that textiles make T-shirts and that textile factories are dirty places to work with dead end jobs and low wages, but that’s not the case,” he said. “Almost every textile manufacturer in Rhode Island is involved in advanced manufacturing.”

George Nickolopoulos, of URI’s Business Engagement Center, said the university had helped launch the network and continues to be involved.

“There are strong organizations that represent the marine trades, the composites alliance, organizations that represent the defense industry, but for such a critical piece of our ecomony, we’ve never had an organization that represented textiles,” he said.

John Riendeau, Director of Business Development at the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation, said technology had transformed the industry.

“An example of that is found in The Moore Company in Westerly,” he said. “If you look at what they do and the various divisions, Darlington Fabric produces some of the best breathable fabrics that are put into football jerseys and sports apparel.”

Kenyon Industries and its parent company, Brookwood Companies Inc. are also members of the network.

“People should know that this is a good place to work and that it’s exciting,” Kenyon President Joanne Bagley said. “We want to target both new students coming out of high school who may not be going to college or even those coming out of URI with degrees. We have a URI graduate that’s the head of our dye lab now. Whether it’s someone who has the technical skills or someone who is not going on to college, there’s a place here to have a good job and do something that’s worthwhile and interesting and exciting.”



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