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The Nation

Bush Selects Orange County Executive for Manufacturing Czar

April 09, 2004|Edwin Chen and James F. Peltz | Times Staff Writers

CRAWFORD, Texas — President Bush on Thursday named a Southern California carpet company executive to serve as his manufacturing czar, ending an eight-month search for someone to oversee efforts to stem the nation's loss of manufacturing jobs.

The disappearance of nearly 2 million jobs in the manufacturing sector -- particularly in crucial states like Ohio -- is considered a serious threat to Bush's reelection chances in November.

Bush's nominee for assistant Commerce secretary for manufacturing and services is Albert A. Frink Jr., cofounder of Santa Ana-based Fabrica International.

Frink, a Latino, started the company in 1974. Fabrica employs 400 people, all in Orange County. The company manufactures and sells high-end luxury carpets and rugs to retailers, interior designers and furniture stores. It boasts that its carpet graces parts of the White House.

Frink has served on the textile advisory board at the Department of Commerce and on the board of directors for the Latino Coalition. In recent years, he has given several thousand dollars to national and state Republican organizations and candidates.

His nomination is subject to Senate confirmation.

"I am honored to be considered for this position," Frink, 61, said in a statement. He added that he hoped to be "an effective advocate for American industry." His company and the Commerce Department said he was unavailable for interviews.

After building Fabrica into a multimillion-dollar business, he and his partners sold the company in July 2000 to Dixie Group Inc. of Dalton, Ga., for about $70 million. Frink is still active at Fabrica as an executive vice president of Dixie Group, and Fabrica last year accounted for $58.5 million, or 25%, of Dixie Group's $234 million in sales.

Frink and his partners "had done an excellent job of positioning the company" at the high end of the carpeting market, Daniel Frierson, Dixie Group's chief executive, said in an interview.

All of Fabrica's manufacturing is done at three facilities in Santa Ana, Frierson said. Although much of the U.S. textile industry has lost ground to foreign operators, Frierson said the U.S. carpet manufacturing industry remained strong, with U.S. firms accounting for nearly half the world's production.

"We're the leader in that area," Frierson said.

Born in Mexico, Frink immigrated to California as a boy. During adolescence, he developed a knack for sales, including newspapers, drapes and carpeting, according to published reports.

He and his partners started Fabrica with the help of a $100,000 Small Business Administration loan, and Frink was inducted into the SBA's hall of fame this year, the Commerce Department said.

In recent years, Frink has been busy in the real estate market. Besides a Newport Beach house with an assessed value of nearly $3 million, Frink owns condominiums and other property in Orange County and million-dollar condos in Aspen, Colo., according to the most recently available public real estate records.

He reportedly is an avid skier and deep-sea fisherman.

Frink gave $2,000 to the campaign of Republican Rosario Marin, a former U.S. treasurer who lost a March 2 California primary race to oppose U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer in the November general election. He also has donated several times, usually in amounts of less than $1,000, to the Republican National Committee and other GOP groups, campaign finance records show.

Bush announced on Labor Day that he would name a manufacturing czar, but had since been criticized for taking too long.

Last month, the Commerce Department was on the verge of naming a Nebraska businessman to the post, but the administration backed away after it learned that the candidate, Tony Raimondo, chairman of Behlen Manufacturing Co., had laid off 75 Behlen workers in the U.S. while setting up a joint operation with a factory in China.

The job drain to foreign countries looms as a potent political issue. In February, N. Gregory Mankiw, the president's chief economist, had to apologize for appearing insensitive to the plight of unemployed workers because of comments he made about outsourcing service jobs to other countries.

Commerce Secretary Don Evans, while campaigning for Bush in Ohio, said of Frink: "Al's extensive background as a manufacturer makes him a great candidate to serve because he has walked in their shoes and knows firsthand the barriers that are challenging American manufacturers."

A spokesman for John F. Kerry's presidential campaign said: "After 2.8 million lost manufacturing jobs, this is too little, too late. We're pleased that eight months after promising to appoint a czar, they finally found someone. Let's hope he can be part of the solution and not exacerbate the problems that the manufacturing sector has endured since this president came into office."

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Chen reported from Texas and Peltz from Los Angeles.

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