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GM bankruptcy has car fabric makers anxious

Three years ago, Ron Frankel's Burlington warehouse was full of the fabrics used in car doors, seat covers, sun visors, seat belts and headboards — making up half of his textile distributing business.

That part is not nearly as busy nowadays as the three major domestic car manufacturers struggle.

"During the boom days, we were getting trucks and trucks of fabric," said Frankel, president of Loomcraft Textiles, which exports surplus material from textile manufacturers. "That area is tightening up dramatically."

Once one of the dominant industries in the Carolinas, the textile industry has managed to keep a hold in the region through becoming specialized, often by producing the fabrics used in car doors and seats.

But like other auto suppliers, this industry sector has seen trouble lately as the three major domestic car manufacturers struggle, though opportunities still exist for textile firms dealing with foreign auto companies.

Monday's news that General Motors was filing for bankruptcy protection, on the heels of a similar filing from Chrysler in April, has manufacturers from around the Carolinas worried about the future of the automotive textile industry.

"In a troubled economy, this was a knock-out punch," said John Edwards, a senior account manager at Nan Ya in Lake City, S.C., which makes industrial yarn used in automotive fabric, among other uses. "Nobody knows what to make."

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