The Palmetto State is home to about 30,000 square miles of water and land resources. The state has had its economy long rooted in agriculture, even from the time when it wasn’t officially a state. Since the 1600’s, farmers in South Carolina have grown indigo, cotton, and tobacco. As the colonies began to expand, rice was also added to the agricultural products produced.
Up until the Civil War, almost half of the rice grown in the United States came from one county in South Carolina. With the war destroying most of the rice paddies, farmers turned their attention back to cotton. By 1918, over 2.8 million acres of cotton were planted.
Although several other states produce more cotton each year, the South Carolina textile industry sees consistent production levels. Many of the farmers and textile companies are multi-generational family operations.
Then cheap cotton began flooding the market. Automation came. Since the late 1990s, more than 200,000 textile manufacturing jobs in the United States have been lost. Over 650 textile plants in the U.S. were closed. With one-third of all textile jobs based in Georgia and North Carolina, the South Carolina textile industry closed much of its operations in the mid-2000s.
Interesting South Carolina Textile Industry Statistics
#1. In 2016, cotton produced $73 million in cash receipts for South Carolina, making it the 13th-largest producer of cotton in the United States. (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
#2. About 250,000 bales of cotton were harvested in the state in 2016, along with 71,000 tons of cotton seed. Both production levels were also ranked 13th in the United States for the year. (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
#3. Cotton production in 2017 in South Carolina experienced a record year, with farmers harvesting about 900 pounds of cotton per acre. (The Newsstand)
#4. In 2016, there were about 190,000 acres of cotton planted in South Carolina. In 2017, there were 250,000 acres of cotton planted. (The Newsstand)
#5. The price for cotton in the United States for the 2017 crop was above $0.80 per pound. In 2018, prices have stayed steady, averaging about $0.75 per pound. (The Newsstand)
#6. About 80% of the cotton crop in South Carolina is planted during the first week of May. This allows a majority of the crop to be harvested around the final week of September. (The Newsstand)
#7. Orangeburg County is the top producer of cotton in South Carolina, with 31,200 harvest acres producing 63,300 bales, which is an average of 974 pounds per acre. Darlington County came in second for production, with 52,800 bales, but a higher pounds-per-acre result at 986. (National Cotton Council)
#8. There were 7 counties in South Carolina which were able to achieve 900+ pounds per acre during the 2017 harvest. That includes Marion County, where there were only 5,300 acres of cotton planted. (National Cotton Council)
#9. Domestic textile establishments in South Carolina declined by 35% from 1990 to 2005, with only 23,000 textile and apparel manufacturers operating within the state. This resulted in a 61% decline in employment opportunities and a 52% decline in earnings over the same time period. (Clemson University)
#10. Changes in real earnings ranged from 10% for textile miles to 36.7% in the apparel manufacturing sector per worker. (Clemson University)
#11. In 1990, there were over 400 operational textile mills in South Carolina. In 2005, there were just 325, a decline of more than 26%. (Clemson University)
#12. Employment in the textile mills in South Carolina dropped from almost 86,000 in 1990 to just 32,000 in 2005. (Clemson University)
#13. The steepest declines were experienced in apparel manufacturing, which saw a 72% reduction in operating establishments between 1990-2005. (Clemson University)
#14. Although the number of job opportunities in South Carolina has decreased, the average wage for workers has increased by 16.7% since 1990, with workers earning more than $35,000 per year today. (Clemson University)
#15. While textile employment opportunities decreased by more than 40% in South Carolina, overall employment opportunities with all industries increased by 20% within the state. (Clemson University)
#16. The largest sector of employment in the South Carolina textile industry is in broadwoven fabric mills. This sector provides about 50% of the employment opportunities within the state’s textile industry. Textile and fabric finishing mills provide another 6,700 jobs, while fiber, yarn, and threat mills provide about 5,000 jobs. (Clemson University)
#17. One positive note for the industry are the state’s fabric coating mills, which reported stable real earnings and employment between 1996-2005, while at the national level, employment and value-added in that segment of the industry has declined by 20%. (Clemson University)
South Carolina Textile Industry Trends and Analysis
In Lancaster County, textile mills owned by one family were a dominant employer for more than 120 years. Through the 1980s, over 11,000 workers each year had direct employment in these facilities. In 2005, the family sold their company to a company in Brazil and the last textile mill in South Carolina closed in 2007.
That meant 3,500 jobs were transferred to Brazil. Two years later, the Great Recession hit, causing unemployment to surge upward of 18% by June 2009.
Then a cotton spinning company said that they were looking for a manufacturing site I the United States. According to USA Today, representatives at the South Carolina Department of Commerce were stunned. What was more surprising about the news was that the company looking to invest was based in China.
The Keer Group chose Lancaster County for a new yarn factory, investing $218 million into the local economy. The facility agreed to pay workers $13.25 per hour in exchange for a $7.8 million bond and a $4 million rural infrastructure grant. Jobs are promised by 2019.
It is a start for the South Carolina textile industry. A full recovery may one day occur. Until then, cotton production within the state continues to bring in millions of dollars in cash receipts to keep the industry going.