When you say the word "textile" in Maine, it conjures up images of the old Bates Mill, Saco Island and the demise of many a textile manufacturing mill town throughout New England in the 1950-1960s. What was a burgeoning industry at the turn of the 20th century and an economic driver for many New England towns with decent waterways and transportation capabilities became a liability when the textile industry moved to the South, and eventually overseas, for lower labor and energy costs.
However, as we see in many of Maine's "traditional" industry sectors, companies that evolved, embraced innovation and technology, and developed value-added products for the domestic and international markets have survived and prospered. TexTech Industries of North Monmouth is a great example of this evolution. What started out as a traditional textile manufacturing plant in the late 1800s evolved into the world's leading producer of tennis ball felt, with operations in Maine, Thailand and China. Most recently, TexTech has developed its capacities as a specialty fibers and fabric producer for the security and safety products industries.
Such product and business evolution does not occur in a vacuum. TexTech aggressively committed human and financial resources to its research and new product development, and leveraged federal and state R&D programs such as the Maine Technology Institute, Small Business and Innovation Research funding from the Department of Defense, and the University of Maine's product development and testing labs. In addition to a focus on innovation, the company developed niche markets in major growth industries such as aerospace and security products with ballistic properties.
The encouraging news for Maine's economy is that over the past several years, many of Maine's textile producers have evolved and thrived, and their products are succeeding in international markets. Companies such as Packgen of Auburn and Yale Cordage of Saco have developed their products from traditional filtration and twine to highly technical composite packaging and composite roping products, servicing such industry giants as Petrobras and Iberdrola. Auburn Manufacturing is not only a leader in producing heat-resistant textiles, but launched a new line of "Evergreen Cut and Wrap" — a new energy-efficient insulation product that is gaining national and international appeal. Many of our Maine-made fiber materials successfully infiltrated the aerospace supply chain, servicing dynamic companies such as Boeing, Brazil's Embraer and Airbus of France.
According to advanced textile industry experts, one area with great promise is the new generation of medical textiles used in wound management — truly transformative medical products that are revolutionizing the successful treatment of and recovery from injuries. This is also an area where Maine has some cutting-edge technologies. Rynel/Molnlycke — a Wiscasset manufacturer of specialty hydrophilic polyurethane foam — is always developing advanced products in wound care management. Biovation, a Boothbay company that produces antimicrobial solutions that can be integrated into fibers and textiles, is specifically targeting the wound care and food processing industries.
The key to success for many companies in the advanced textile industry is their home state's commitment to innovation, education and expanding international markets. Both Pennsylvania and North Carolina have made advanced textiles an economic development priority and have vibrant international trade programs connecting this sector with opportunities abroad.
Maine sees, and is seizing, this developing market. We are at an exciting juncture in this industry sector. Our companies are innovating and maturing into international markets. The University of Maine, and its Advanced Structures and Composites Center in particular, is integrating with the advanced textiles industry to develop new products and innovation. It also has had great success securing Department of Defense and other federal grants for further development. We are now marketing Maine's advanced textile assets abroad through the "Invest in Maine" international business attraction efforts. The recent Maine trade mission to South America had more advanced textile companies participating than ever before.
While some naysayers may think that traditional industries like textiles have no future, they are not following the progress made, and the potential the future holds. Maine companies are doing great and innovative things with advanced engineering. It is important that we continue to nurture this growth and development both at home and abroad. Transforming this vision into reality will help Maine stay at the forefront of this vital and developing field.