More than 75 textile leaders gathered at this year’s Outlook® Conference to hear updates on the economy and the top issues facing the industry. The Outlook conference is organized by the U.S. Industrial & Narrow Fabric Institute and the Military Division of the Advanced Textiles Association. This year’s conference was held May 5-7 at the Wild Dunes Resort in Isle of Palms, S.C.

Military Morning

Outlook 2024 kicked off with the Military Morning and a new feature—a townhall discussion of the issues facing companies working in the military segment. Participants said some of the top challenges they are dealing with right now are labor challenges and the “feast or famine” nature of producing military products. For example, several attendees noted that there is good demand internationally right now because of ongoing fighting in other parts of the world, but less so domestically.

Other features of Military Morning included an update on the U.S. military budget from Ron Houle, founder and president of Pivot Step Consultants. He noted that while a lot has changed—war in Gaza, Red Sea shipping challenges—many of the issues, such as the war in Ukraine, continue. The ongoing use of continuing resolutions by the U.S. Congress rather than passing a full budget also make it difficult to plan on increased spending, he said.

Attendees also heard from Lisa Marie Vivino from the Defense Logistics Agency, the government agency that manages the defense supply chain for the U.S. military. Vivino discussed the new Economic Piece Index Clause in procurement contracts, which is tied directly to material costs from the BLS index. The clause is designed to make sure prices go up or down based on current costs to help account for inflation, but she did acknowledge that the index doesn’t include labor costs, a significant area of concern for textile manufacturers.

Vivino also said that DLA envisions a “PFAS-free future” at some point. She urged attendees to continue to work to remove PFAS from their products, while noting the current challenges in doing so.

Leadership Development

Popular Outlook speaker Dr. Melissa Furman returned this year with a general session on Navigating the Future Landscape of Business, followed by breakout sessions on leadership development.

Successful companies and leaders, Furman said, are always thinking about the future rather than focusing on the past or present. Embracing adaptability as a leader and an organization are only becoming more important as the world changes at a rapid pace. Work, the workforce and the workplace are all changing and successful leaders have to have a positive outlook about change.

Furman identified five key characteristics for leaders to develop individual adaptability:

  • Grit
  • Mental flexibility
  • A mindset that change is positive
  • Resilience
  • The ability to unlearn and let go of previous knowledge

It’s also important for employees to see and feel that companies are adaptable and demonstrate these five characteristics:

  • Company support for their wellbeing
  • Emotional health
  • Team support
  • Work environment
  • Management of work stress

Policy & industry updates

Attendees also heard from several other speakers offering the latest on some of the key issues impacting the industry.

Sara Beatty, president of Whitehaven Trade Advisors, presented an update on Washington policy and advocacy efforts by the USINFI.

Those efforts are highlighted by the recent Advocacy Days in March but continue throughout the year. Some of the top issues USINFI is currently working on include protecting the Berry Amendment, supporting action on de minimis and other trade issues, and urging a science-based approach to regulation of PFAS.

Roger Tutterow, Ph.D., professor of economics at Kennesaw State University, returned to Outlook again this year as well. In his economic update, he noted that the chance of a recession is still there, even if it doesn’t seem as likely as it did a year ago.

The labor market continues to be challenging as well. As much as people may be tired of hearing about COVID, it’s impossible to deny the impact it has had on the labor situation, he said.

“You can’t lose 22 million jobs and not expect to feel the results for several years,” he said.

The job surplus is shrinking, though. In 2021, there were about 12.2 million open jobs in the United States, compared to 8.4 million now. The U.S. averages about 7 million openings in good economic times, and that difference could be made up by the roughly 2 million people who still aren’t in the workforce.

Outlook 2025 dates and location will be announced soon.

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