Textiles are in Basilio Medina’s blood – and he wouldn’t want it any other way. At 48, he has spent his entire 26-year career in the U.S. textile industry.
As a production coordinator at global fabric maker Glen Raven, Inc., based in the central North Carolina town of the same name, Basilio is responsible for cleaning and prepping equipment for color changes as high-tech yarn is processed into advanced fabric.
Looking for better opportunities, Basilio came to the U.S. from El Salvador in the 1990s and landed at Dixie Yarns in N.C., where he worked as a machine operator and technician, working there two years before that plant closed. After quickly learning and becoming efficient in advanced technologies, the shuttering company recommended he apply for a job at nearby Glen Raven, where he’s worked ever since. He served as a section leader for 15 years before being promoted to his current position.
Textiles are now in his family’s blood, too. His brother, son three sisters-in-law and a brother-in-law all work for Glen Raven.
“Working here and in textiles has been a good experience, all these 26 years,” he says. “It’s like a family. They care about their employees and they have good benefits. There are people who have worked here for over 40 years. So I think this is a very important business for the U.S. and for, especially people like me and my family.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic exposed the shortage of critical Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers and others on the frontlines, many in the U.S. textile industry stepped up to alter operations to produce these essential goods. While others, like Basilio and his team, began producing inputs used to create protective gear.
Yarn produced at Glen Raven’s Burlington plant, for example, is sent to a nearby plant and woven into a highly technical fabric called GlenGuard®, an arc-flash, flame-retardant, lightweight fabric that protect utility and electrical workers who keep essential businesses, including hospitals and healthcare systems, running.
During the crisis, Basilio and his group were called back to work after a one-day furlough was instituted as businesses nationwide were closing. They were asked to ramp up the amount of Glen Raven’s proprietary synthetic fiber mix to boost production of the company’s GlenGuard® product. Practically overnight, the plant shifted its focus from making its signature Sunbrella® line of solution-dyed acrylic yarns used in indoor/outdoor fabrics, to creating blends needed for protective apparel fabric.
“When COVID-19 shut down the textile plant, the company quickly realized that our GlenGuard product would open a big opportunity for us to keep running and help our country,” Basilio says.
I think it’s important to make products here because it gives Americans jobs and helps take care of and feed families.
The pandemic certainly proved the importance of the textile industry to the health, well-being and safety of U.S. citizens. But its value is apparent in many other ways, including supporting American families and communities.
“I think it’s important to make products here because it gives Americans jobs and helps take care of and feed families,” Basilio says. “Textiles is a very important business for families that maybe didn’t go to college. I would rather work in textiles than work in construction or anywhere else. I’m happy doing what I do every day for all these years.”
Basilio says he can’t see himself doing anything but textiles for the rest of his career, so he stressed that lawmakers should consider the livelihoods of thousands of Americans whenever legislation comes up that involves the industry.
“To keep jobs here, especially in textiles, is very important,” he says. “If these companies disappear, where are we going to find a job? I think they [lawmakers] need to carry the load and make sure these jobs are not shipped overseas. I think they can work it out to even bring some jobs back here, and I think we will be in a better position in the future.”