"We will be the anti-Florange" : Béthune, an example of French-style reindustrialization

It’s like reliving an episode from the past: in Béthune, in a disused building, old looms have started spinning again, producing large spools of linen (photo). In the region, this had not happened since 2005, when the Safilin company closed its doors, relocating its production to Poland. “It was then the only way to survive against Asian competition,” explains Alix Pollet, director of the brand division at Safilin.

But since the Covid crisis, it has been difficult to ignore the demands of consumers wishing to consume local and sustainable. Especially since the situation seems absurd: while France is the largest flax producer in the world, 80% of its production is exported to Asia, for lack of spinning mills in France. Never mind, supported by the State (800,000 euros), the Hauts-de-France region (400,000 euros) and the Béthune-Bruay urban community (200,000 euros), the company has decided to relocate part of its production here, investing 5 million euros in a new factory which, since March 2022, has been running at full speed.

If Safilin chose Béthune, it is because the company, created in 1778, was once established not far away, in Sailly-sur-la-Lys. And because, to favor short circuits, it was necessary to get closer to the launderers and other combers present within a radius of 50 kilometers. The company was also able to count on the agglomeration, decided to revitalize a territory marked by the closure of the tire manufacturer Bridgestone in 2021. “This industrial shock does not sign our death: we will be the anti-Florange and will redeploy our activities around the circular economy”, assures Olivier Gacquerre (UDI), the president of the agglomeration community of Béthune-Bruay, Artois Lys Romane. “To recreate the 864 jobs lost, subsidies will be granted and the 30-hectare site will be reindustrialized, explains Jérôme Brossier, director of business development. Within three years, 2,100 jobs are expected.”

The benefits are already palpable: among the 30 people recruited, there are several former Bridgestone employees. And the relocation had a snowball effect on other activities. Without her, Peignage Dumortier would not have relaunched its linen workshop. Safilin has also forged ties with the University of Artois and the center of excellence around plastics processing to develop new materials. From the field to the finished product, an entire sector has thus been reconstituted, offering 100% French linen. A market with a promising future for this ecological fiber whose cultivation requires no watering and few inputs. Other regions have embarked on this path, notably Normandy with French Filature and Alsace with Velcorex Since 1828. Béthune is once again setting an example.

An article from the special issue of L’Express “Find the city that suits you”. On sale since November 17.


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