Wilson College of Textiles Receives $2M in USAID Funding

North Carolina State University’s Wilson College of Textile has received $2 million in funding to establish a technical textile training program in Honduras, which comes at a pivotal time of onshoring and nearshoring for the textile and apparel industry.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) awarded the $2 million, two-year grant to Wilson College to develop the new program in partnership with Gaston College and Catawba Valley Community College—all nationally recognized for their leadership in textiles innovation, research and education—and the Universidad Tecnológica Centroamericana (UNITEC), a leader in providing technical and engineering education in Honduras.

As outlined in press release and post from Wilson College, the program is titled Hilando Oportunidades (Spinning Opportunities) in northern Honduras and aims to  deliver training to at least 1,500 Hondurans in yarn spinning, knitting, dyeing and finishing, and apparel production. The project will be led by Melissa Sharp, associate director of Zeis Textiles Extension (ZTE) in Wilson College, who says “a key aspect of the program is the development of trackable credentials that will empower workers in Honduras’ textile industry and expand the routes to advancement.”

In addition, education technology partner Shimmy, an industrial startup, will provide training through mobile applications while credentials will be issued through Credly and maintained by NC State, providing third-party evidence of skills and training attained through Hilando Oportunidades.

The announcement of funding and the universities’ partnership followed an MOU signing in August 2022, which brought together high-level U.S. and Honduran government officials, including: Jose W. Fernandez, Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and the Envirnonent; Jennifer Knight, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Textiles, Consumer Goods and Materials at the U.S. Department of Commerce; and Hector Zelaya, private secretary to Honduran President Xiomara Castro.

The U.S. State Department issued a statement of public support for the MOU at the time and the unique collaboration between the U.S. and Honduran institutions.

The partnership comes at a defining moment for the U.S., Honduras and Central America, which are seeing significant levels of investment in textile and apparel production as part of a co-production chain under the U.S.-Dominican Republic-Central America (CAFTA-DR) agreement.

NCTO President and CEO Kim Glas and CECATEC-RD Executive Director Patricia Figueroa recently penned a joint op-ed that showcases perspectives from both the U.S. and Central American textile and apparel industries on the state of nearshoring in Central America and focuses on the region and our co-production chain as a strong sourcing alternative to Asia, even in a down market.

In the past 18 months alone, this vibrant partnership with the region has spawned $2 billion in investments in both the U.S. and Central America, as brands and retailers continue to look for ways to diversify their supply chains.

The U.S. and this region are inextricably linked through a textile and apparel co-production chain that generated $15 billion in annual two-way trade in the sector and supports 1 million workers in the U.S. and region.

That is why this partnership and the Hilando Oportunidades training and education program in Honduras is critical, to help prepare thousands of students for the next generation textile workforce.

It is intended to create an educational pathway to economic opportunity in Honduras and the region that not only creates a skilled and resilient workforce but can also help address the root causes of irregular migration.

Current growth projections indicate a need for more than 10,000 skilled new workers in the textile industry in Honduras alone over the next five years. In order to meet these needs, educational programming is needed at all levels.

North Carolina plays a central role in this co-production chain. It is the second-largest state for textile employment nationally with over 36,000 workers, and the state’s $2.7 billion in textile-related exports leads the nation. The Northern Triangle, including Honduras, is a major export destination for U.S. yarns and fabrics that come back as finished items under the CAFTA-DR trade agreement.