The U.S. Department of Commerce awarded an $8 million grant to a consortium of four Southeastern universities to launch the National Textile Center University Research Consortium, a cooperative research and education program.

The Center's goal is to enhance the competitiveness of the U.S. textile industry through development and implementation of new technologies and rapid response manufacturing and distribution systems."With the integrated resources of the National Textile Center, we intend to look at the system as a whole rather than just an single components of the industry," said Robert Barnhardt, dean of textiles at N.C. State University.

"One of the reasons some offshore competitors can be so successful is that they have one company that encompasses all segments from one end to the other. All they have to do is to show a profit at any point from the beginning to the end. We have to show profits all along the chain and that's where we get into trouble," he said.

The Center will focus on the fiber, textile apparel and home furnishings industries, which together provided more than two million jobs in the United States, collectively making them the nation's single largest manufacturing employer.

The participating academic institutions - Auburn University, Clemson University, the Georgia Institute of Technology and North Carolina State University, will work with executives and researchers from the textile industry.

"The NTC will demonstrate how industry, government and universities can work together to solve real world problems and enhance the connection between basic research and the consumer to improve the national economy," said Thomas J. Malone, chairman of the Center's Industrial Oversight Committee and president of Milliken & Co.

"The American consumer will be the beneficiary of these exciting efforts," he said.

Mr. Barnhardt, credited Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., and U.S. Rep. David Price, D-N.C., for getting funding through Congress.

The U.S. textile industry has made substantial investments over the past decade in automation, new manufacturing technologies and "quick response" systems. However, the growth of low-cost imports, financial restructuring of many companies and other factors over the past five years have reduced the industry's ability to conduct research needed to continue these advances.

In the meantime, large and well-organized government-sponsored textile research efforts have developed in both Europe and the Pacific Rim, industry executives contend.

The Center grant is "an important step" in efforts to boost industrial competitiveness at a time when U.S. manufacturing capability is "under severe attack," Mr. Malone said.

Joe Cunning, former director of the Research and Development division of Du Pont Fibers, will serve as the center's first director.

Heavy industrial involvement in the planning and review of the Center will help ensure that the research addresses real problems and is quickly put to use through technology transfer, Mr. Cunning said.