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Covering ground in global markets

February 06, 2008|Alana Semuels | Times Staff Writer

Lots of things are made in China -- toys, Boy Scout badges, socks, shock absorbers, chain saws, to name a few.

But when the Chinese needed a carpet for Shanghai's international airport, they looked to the City of Industry, home of Bentley Prince Street, the largest commercial carpet manufacturer in California.

Bentley Prince recently finished outfitting 100,000 square yards of the airport in bluish-gray modular carpeting made from recycled content with renewable energy.

"It's a real feather in our cap," said Anthony Minite, president of Bentley Prince, which beat out Chinese competitors to win the contract. Not only was the airport carpet made in California, Minite pointed out, but the company is sending some of its more than 600 workers to China to install it.

The demand for industrial carpet is booming in China as well as in India and fast-growing economies in the Middle East and South America. "The Pacific Rim is explosive right now," said Al Kabus, president of Kennesaw, Ga.-based Mohawk Group, one of the world's largest carpet companies.

That's good for Bentley Prince and similar companies in the United States, which supplies 45% of the world's carpet, according to the Carpet and Rug Institute, a trade association.

When it comes to this kind of floor covering, Made in the USA is a fashion statement.

Hani al-Qasem, director of ARKI Group, an architecture firm in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, said owners of the buildings where Bentley Prince products are installed -- including the offices of Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank and Burj al Arab, the distinctive, sail-like hotel in Dubai -- wouldn't shop elsewhere.

"They like it because it's a U.S. product," he said, "and the United States is known for its carpets."

Minite said he wasn't worried that some competitors had opened offices in India and other countries to train locals in installation and design.

"There's a mystique to buying an American-made product," Minite said. He thinks there's also one about California-made carpet, which is why Bentley Prince plays up the Golden State angle.

"It's Hollywood, it's fashion," he said. "We use that as a tool."

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alana.semuels@latimes.com

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