TECHNOLOGY AND OUTSOURCING
by Virginia Postrel • Mar 26, 2004 at 11:20 am
Despite the occasional balancing point, this NYT feature hews to a standard narrative: technological progress plus geographical mobility equals cultural loss. In this case, the product is luxury fabric and old-fashioned looms in Queens are being replaced by computerized looms in some place called South Carolina, where workers make ridiculously low pay.
The Jacquard looms in the Scalamandre mill, though fully mechanized, made only 2 to 20 yards a day, depending on the complexity of the fabric, and still needed a lot of personal attention. Computerized looms, by comparison, will make 20 to 100 yards a day. The newer machines will each, on average, do the work of six iron-and-wood looms, minus the balletic grace....
According to Mrs. Bitter, it takes 6 to 10 years to train an expert weaver, who can earn up to $17 an hour, said Luis Ginorio, a representative of Unite, the union at the mill; the average worker, he said, might make $10 to $11 an hour. In South Carolina, he added, the average wage might be $7 or $8 an hour.
The NYT doesn't specify the city--Who could possibly care?--but chances are $7 an hour buys a much better lifestyle in South Carolina than $10 an hour buys in Queens. The article is worth reading, both for its information and its stereotypical narrative, and the website has a cool slide show that captures the romance of old industry.
For the other side of the story, here's the Greenville News account:
A high-end textile manufacturer is relocating much of its manufacturing operations to Gaffney, with plans to employ 90 people and invest $7.5 million.
That's good news for a county hit with an 8.8 percent unemployment rate in January. That translates to 2,420 people looking for jobs in a labor force of 27,490 people.
Statewide, the textile industry lost 4,100 jobs last year and 28,200 over the past five years.
Scalamandre, which sells its fabric for up to $2,000 a yard, plans to close its plant in Queens, N.Y., where it has been since 1929. It will phase out the New York operations by late spring, moving its weaving, dying and finishing operations to the Upstate.
Mark Bitter, chief executive officer and the grandson of the company founder, said the move will allow the company to triple its production and cut costs by 40 percent.
In South Carolina, "you have lower overhead, lower taxes, lower occupancy costs, lower labor costs, lower everything," he said.
But you have much more powerful newspapers (with better writers) in New York.