The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


January 13, 2011

Company lays off half of work force

Global economy dooms 15 jobs

— PENNS CREEK — Bonnie Liddington is one of 15 people handed termination papers from a Penns Creek clothing factory.

Many of them had made a living for up to 40 years at Hi-Li Corp. in Center Township, Snyder County.

Liddington, who lives close enough to the business that she could walk to work each day, would have been there for five years in June.

Without warning, she said, she received a letter last week that simply stated her job was no longer available.

Her daughter, Shayla Burkholder, was another employee let go. A recent graduate of McCann School of Business and Technology, she said, the income from her job at Hi-Li was needed to pay back school loans, and to supplement her husband's income. The couple has a 2-year-old son.

The Hi-Li work force was cut nearly in half last week. Because the workers are not unionized, factors of seniority did not come into play in the company's deciding who would go.

Before the layoffs, there were 35 employees, according to Chris Brauer, human resources director for Alpha Mills Corp., the parent company based in Schuylkill Haven, where another factory and a distribution center are located.

Another layoff reportedly occurred last year around the same time. At one point, the factory employed between 50 and 75 people.

Brauer said the Penns Creek facility is not expected to close.

Hi-Li manufactures various knit items, including shorts, T-shirts and underwear.

The private-label clothing is sent to customers in the armed services and to assorted smaller retailers.

The domestic textile industry in America is an "incredibly difficult environment," Brauer said. "We basically made decisions after analyzing our staffing and production needs.”

Textile manufacturing, meanwhile, continues its move to foreign countries, where the work can be completed at a "fraction of the labor cost," he said.

That trend is something that at least a couple of Valley officials would like to end.   "That is just devastating for a small community like that," Snyder County Commissioner Peggy Chamberlain Roup said when she heard the news.

However, she added: "I admire them for sustaining this many employees for this long. Foreign competition has been keen for years.”

Roup said she would take efforts to connect the company with the Governor's Action Team, to see if any help could be offered to bring jobs back to the factory.

"I'm hopeful," she said. "I like to think that the glass is half-full. I want people to think positively.”

Charlie Ross, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Susquehanna Valley Chamber of Commerce, said Wednesday that he, too, would be looking into any help the chamber could provide to the corporation.

Hi-Li, he said, holds a niche market, and while it hasn't grown over the years, it has been able to maintain for the approximate 50 years it has been in business. He also called it a "community factory," meaning that a number of the workers began employment there right after high school graduation.   Unfortunately, times have changed, and most of the competition for markets like Hi Li's come from China and the Middle East, Ross said. There may be hope, he said, with news that "rampant inflation" occurring in China may "level the playing field" for American businesses at least for a time.

Even so, this time of year remains slow for textile companies, Ross said, as the Christmas season just ended, and companies are not immediately looking to replenish their inventories.

For a textile company to really succeed, he said, they must find low labor cost and capture a niche.

Then, he said, "You're golden.”

"Generally speaking, with the kind of pressures out there internationally, it's hard for U.S. companies to compete," he said.

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