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Shea-Porter hears Velcro's fears of threats to textile industry

New Hampshire Union Leader

January 31. 2014 8:13PM
Carol Hildebrand, right, manager of business operations at Velcro USA, explains the raw materials of Velcro products, during a tour of the company's North American headquarters in Manchester by U.S. Rep Carol Shea-Porter on Friday. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)

MANCHESTER — U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, D-N.H., met Friday with executives of Velcro USA Inc., makers of the ubiquitous hook-and-loop fasteners, who voiced concern about the Trans-Pacific Partnership and possible negative affects for the textile industry.

William Tagye, senior marketing manager for the company — which has 600 employees at its Manchester plant and another 200 in Somersworth — said Velcro USA is concerned about the proposed elimination of all import duties on textiles.

The company also fears that any country with which the United States does not have an agreement, such as mainland China, could export textiles and clothing to TPP member Vietnam, exploiting its "yarn forward position" or favorable duty status, and then ship the items to other countries.

"Any country we don't have an agreement with could exploit Vietnam and devalue the market," Tagye said. "It really is that textile piece because the U.S. textile industry is so fragile."

TPP, which is under negotiation, is a proposed trade agreement by Australia, Brunei, Chile, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.

Shea-Porter said she, too, is concerned about any impact the TPP could have on American industry.

"I love 'Made in America.' That's why I want to build up our manufacturing," she said. She said the United States needs to bring manufacturing jobs back to America and work to ensure that those already here, like Velcro, remain.

In April, Shea-Porter introduced a bill to amend the Buy American Act of 1933, which was signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt and required the U.S. government to give preference to U.S.-made products when making purchases. Her bill would require all federal and independent agencies to conduct yearly audits to ensure they are in compliance with the original legislation.She said the original act has lost its impact over time due to lax execution and failures on the part of Congress to provide adequate oversight.

The congresswoman says she worked at several manufacturing companies to pay her way through college, with her longest employment at Davidson Rubber on the Seacoast, which was sold to another company that ultimately folded. They were good-paying jobs, she said. Velcro has been manufacturing in New Hampshire since 1957. The hook-and-loop fastener was originally made in the early 1940s by Swiss inventor George de Mestral, who came to Manchester in search of textile weaving expertise.

He came up with the product after returning from a hunting trip with his dog in the Alps. His clothes and his dog had cockleburrs, a plant with stiff, hooked spines, stuck to them. He examined the burrs under a microscope and then ultimately replicated it, resulting in the iconic product.

Today, the fasteners are used in products as diverse as orthopedic braces, to infant and adult diapers to solar panels, to bullet resistant vests.Shea-Porter got an up close look at the manufacturing process Friday and the weaving machines that combine monofilament — fishing line — for the hook with multifilaments for the backing.Carol Hildebrand, manager of business operations, explained that only loops are woven. The loops are then disbursed, to make the backing side of the fastener, or cut to make the hook side.

New Hampshire is the headquarters of Velcro Americas/Velcro USA, although its holding company, Velcro Industries N.V., is based in Curacao.

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