Despite global economic challenges, the value of U.S. nonwovens increased 11% to $11.4 billion last year, representing a new record, according to trade figures. Additionally, the market was able to grow its exports 4% while seeing a decrease in imports of 10% and bucking a near decade-long trend of declining exports (U.S. exports of nonwovens declined 5% in 2007).
Some of this reversal is the result of a general slowdown in imports driven by the recession, but it is interesting to note that before this crisis, nonwovens had defied other U.S. industry export trends. More important, U.S.-made nonwovens have managed to grow their global demand at a time when other textile segments have posted declines in the U.S.
It's hard to say why the U.S. nonwovens industry has chosen to improve its global position at a time when so many industries are struggling. Of course, many of the markets served by nonwovens—medical, disposable diapers, feminine hygiene—are recession-proof, but others, namely the automotive and construction markets, have been major victims of the economic downturn.
There's no questions that the nonwovens industry—both in the U.S. and around the world—is facing challenges. Investment in new lines has slowed substantially—just last month it was announced that Companhia Providencia has delayed its ambitious U.S. entry plan for at least six months—weaker companies have gone out of business or filed for bankruptcy protection and even stronger companies have closed lines or consolidated plants. However, as the U.S. trade figures illustrate, growth can continue for nonwovens and this will be an industry that is poised to be stronger than ever once the global economic crisis comes to an end.
(For more U.S. nonwovens trade figures, please see Capitol Comments, page 26.)