Wall Street Journal Profiles Milliken’s Movement to Support Free Trade, ExportsMay 8, 2015
Milliken & Company has a deep-rooted history in Upstate South Carolina and the influence of former President, Roger Milliken can still be felt in the region and throughout the textile industry. Milliken & Company operates from the company’s corporate headquarters in Spartanburg, S.C., employing more than 7,000 workers throughout 39 manufacturing facilities in the U.S., the U.K., Belgium, France and China. While the modern-day company benefits from a highly successful approach to free trade, a recent article in the Wall Street Journal profiles how that was not always the case.
According to the piece “How a U.S. Textile Maker Came to Embrace Free Trade”:
“The support (for free trade) from Milliken and the textile industry reflects a metamorphosis of modern commerce. Mr. Milliken built his company into a powerhouse when the U.S. dominated the global economy. Like other prominent business leaders of his time—among them Lee Iacocca of Chrysler and Ross Perot of Electronic Data Systems—Mr. Milliken argued that American success depended on manufacturing. He fought for trade protection from emerging powers, especially Japan and then China.
But as business becomes more international, American industries that once pushed for protection—apparel, automobiles, semiconductors and tires—now rarely do so.”
The Wall Street Journal articles goes into great detail about how Roger Milliken became one of the most powerful voices against various free trade agreements, placing Milliken & Company at the forefront of opposition against those issues. Milliken’s influence would create a ripple effect through the textile industry, and the Upstate, affecting the position the company’s partners and suppliers would take on free trade as well.
However, as the economic climate has vastly changed, so too has Milliken & Company’s approach to free trade. Under the direction of its current CEO, Joesph Salley, Milliken & Company opened a factory in Shanghai in 2007 and moved its Asia headquarters to the Chinese city in 2012.
Milliken & Company’s change of stance on free trade speaks volumes to the modern global economy. Companies like Milliken have helped make Upstate South Carolina one of the premier locations for global operations, but in order to become a true global leader, the region, and businesses located here, must link the strengths developed over decades of strong international recruitment to the needs of established and emerging domestic enterprises. Like Milliken & Company, businesses in the Upstate must evolve with the demands of the marketplace in order to succeed.
Earlier this year, the Upstate SC Alliance, in conjunction with the Brookings Institution and JPMorgan Chase, announced the Upstate SC Regional Export Plan to help with those efforts. The plan will work to encourage companies to align existing resources and mainstream exports into the traditional economic development framework—helping the region multiply the value of its resources to the local economy.