The story of American Enka

When the Dutch choose the South



It was there in the newspaper.

And, as they read the Sunday paper for September 23, 1928, the people of Asheville, N. C., sensed that a great and welcome change had come in their region's economic outlook.

A firm called American Enka Corporation was announcing plans for the construction of a rayon manufacturing plant on 2,000 acres of ground next to Southern Railway's "Murphy Branch" in Hominy Valley seven miles from town.

Symbolic of the close working relationship between American Enka and the Southern Railway, a switch engine passes beneath Enka's clock tower at Asheville, N. C., as it spots cars.


The $16 million which would be invested in the project was to mean more than merely fresh money' circulating through the financial veins of that western North Carolina mountain town.

The investment was the town's deliverance from those forces, which were then preparing the United States for the depression.

One of these forces was the collapse of property values. From the coastal Hats of Florida to the high reaches of the Carolina Blue Ridge, land speculators were toppling from the heights of artificial boom, tumbling into the valley of bust.

Their fall echoed with particular fearsomeness about the mountains around Asheville, a non-industrial resort area with an economy wedded to real estate and the attractions which the land about held out to\tourists and vacation-time residents.

Things began changing in Asheville.

Initially, there would be construction workers' wages spent locally, materials bought locally, all of the many local exchanges of a single dollar bill multiplied 16 million times.

And in the years to come, there would be a huge industry offering permanent employment for many and offering proof through its own demonstrated success that would attract more industries to the same area.

It was as though a great hand had dropped a huge stone into a quiet pool. After the first splash, the circles of consequence began radiating confidently outwards. They have not stopped yet.

"Glauber salt," a by-product of rayon manufacture, Ieaves American Enka in these Southern hopper cars for delivery to paper mills and detergent makers.


When Enka came to Hominy Valley, public comment dealt but briefly with the "why's," dwelled fondly on the outlook.

The Chamber of Commerce president predicted that the location of the plant near the city would "call the attention of the industry world to the idea that Asheville and western North Carolina should be considered by any and all plants contemplating a change in location. I am sure that this is only the beginning."

A local bank president said American Enka's "effect upon the growth of this region will be incalculable."

The 33 years since that autumn Sunday have seen these confident predictions materialize into fact. The years have also seen American Enka move so steadily through such a determined progression of expansions and growth developments that the original "why's" become the initial notes of a case history which demonstrates what the South has to offer private enterprise. It is a study which shows how private capital may succeed in the land served by Southern.

And it all began with money from Europe.

The special construction inside such Southern box cars as the one pictured here is designed to carry so-called "beams" of nylon and rayon. The beams lock in place, thus assuring damage-free shipment.


American Enka was incorporated with capital supplied by a firm from across the Atlantic Ocean in Holland, Nederlandsche Kunstziidefabriek, N.V. (It is from the "n-k" sound of the initial letters in the parent firm's Dutch name that "Enka" is derived.)

Once described by Business Week magazine as "a giant international textile combine with 17 European affiliate companies," the Dutch firm was 15 years old in 1928 when it incorporated American Enka as a United States subsidiary.

One of the reasons it made the move was because growing American trade protectionism was leading to a decrease in the importation of rayon into the United States, thus cutting away at the profits of many European artificial silk firms.

So the Dutch did as investors of German, Swiss and British capital would soon do. They financed an American subsidiary, incorporated on May 1, 1928.

Then began a nation-wide search for a suitable plant site. More than 50 locations were evaluated, and from these, Asheville stood out.