Donald Trump made opposition to outsourcing the centerpiece of his successful presidential campaign. On the trail, he ranted against businesses and CEOs that moved jobs overseas and allegedly refused to put American workers first. As president, Trump promised, he would take on the outsourcers and bring back the factories.
So you’d think that he probably wouldn’t make one of those outsourcers a key member of his cabinet.
But you might be wrong.
For secretary of commerce—the official charged with spurring economic growth at home—Trump is reportedly eyeing a Palm Beach billionaire with a history of overseeing the layoffs of workers at a North Carolina textile company and moving factory operations to China and Mexico.
Wilbur Ross, who lives down the road from Mar-a-Lago, is the leading contender for the position, according to a recent Politico report. A separate Politico story reported Ross was also in the running for Treasury secretary. It was backed up by Carl Icahn, a billionaire Trump insider, who tweeted on Tuesday that Trump is considering Ross for both gigs.
So, Ross—a venture capitalist, Jeb Bush-supporter turned loyal Trump booster and campaign economic advisor—is in demand.
Just one little issue: His career choices run contrary to everything Trump based his campaign on.
Because Ross (like Trump) has a history of sending manufacturing work to China and Mexico.
Ross is already taking heat from the left for his connection to the deaths of 12 coal miners in West Virginia; shortly after he purchased the Sago Mine, which had a history of safety problems, a dozen workers there died.
Ross took responsibility for their deaths in an interview with ABC News.
And now, filings with the Department of Labor show that the employees of a struggling North Carolina textile company Ross purchased in 2004 became eligible for trade adjustment assistance a few years after his takeover—meaning globalization killed their jobs.
“The general idea that Donald Trump and Wilbur Ross will save working and middle class Americans is belied by their track record,” said Michael Kink, who heads the labor-backed Strong Economy for All Coalition. “These are the guys that destroyed the jobs. These are the guys that outsourced the jobs. These are the guys that cut the wages and the pensions.”
Here’s how it worked: In 2004, Ross bought Cone Mills, a North Carolina textile company facing bankruptcy, as Bloomberg detailed in a 2012 write-up. He combined it with another textile company, Burlington Industries, to form International Textile Group. And it was renamed Cone Denim. Bloomberg explained that Ross expanded production “in less-expensive emerging markets” and that he also “eliminate[d] duplicative facilities.”
In other words, layoffs and outsourcing.
When Ross bought Cone Mills, it employed about 1,100 people, according to the Greensboro News & Record. On Oct. 22, 2007, the paper reported management announced it would lay off about 150 people. The company’s U.S. workforce shrank and shrank over the years. In 2012, Bloomberg reported it had only 300 employees in North Carolina. The company didn’t respond to a request for comment for this story, and didn’t say how large its U.S. workforce is currently.
While Cone Denim was laying off American workers, it was expanding production in China and Mexico.
In 2014, Ross told Haute Living—a Palm Beach high-society publication—that he made multiple business trips to China to work on expanding Cone Denim’s facilities there.
“Instead of letting Cone close, Ross had a 21st century solution—open Cone Denim mills in Jiaxing, China and in the Mexican cities of Parras and Yecapixtla,” the magazine explained.
And Ross got a fun perk out of the situation: Doing business in China gave him a chance to build out his fine art collection.
“Ross’ business trips to Hong Kong and China for Cone and other business ventures brought him face to face with contemporary Chinese art, which he and his wife have become avid collectors of,” the magazine wrote.
Department of Labor filings show that Cone Denim’s laid-off employees became eligible for trade adjustment assistance, federal support for American workers who lose their jobs to the kind of globalization that made Ross’s art collection so nice.
One of those filings, from Oct. 30, 2008, noted that the shrinking workforce in Cone Denim’s Greensboro facility was due in part to the fact that denim production was moving to Mexico.
To be sure, Ross could plausibly defend the Cone Denim layoffs in North Carolina and investments overseas. At least Cone Denim still has a North Carolina plant, while the rest of the state’s textile industry has largely been destroyed. Ross didn’t return a request for comment from The Daily Beast for this story, and neither did Trump’s transition team.
Meanwhile, Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) told The Daily Beast he was disturbed by Ross’s ownership of a company that shipped jobs overseas. Jones, a conservative Republican who shares Trump’s views on immigration and trade, said a Ross appointment would disappoint him.
“I thought Trump was going to change some things, stop shipping all these jobs overseas,” Jones said.
“The base that helped him win—the base is looking for certain promises to be kept,” he added. “They really are.”