Plans for the creation of the 'Centre of Excellence' announced at the beginning of this year are well under way says Unitex, the textile manufacturers' association covering Lyon and surrounding Rhone-Alpes region.

And Unitex's determination to serve the textile industry of the region, both now and in the future, is inherent in its most recent initiative to introduce a computer graphics centre and a unit specialising in research into medical use and health promoting textiles.

At the heart of the scheme will be Maison du Textil, based at Lyon. This will house the Euro-Info media resource centre and library facility to be used both by Unitex members and for general textile trade training.

"We see the Maison du Textil as essentially a place for the exchange of ideas, a site for meetings and special events as well as a centre where Unitex members can meet customers and suppliers on neutral ground," says Unitex. The association points out that for more than three centuries this region has been a key area for textile production in France and in the minds of most cloth buyers particularly associated with the production of fine quality silks.

This reputation continues and every year the Rhone-Alpes region of France pumps 2.7 billion francs into the national economy via the export of fabrics produced in the region.

The modern fabric industry based in the area consists of some l300 companies providing jobs for 30,600 workers and enjoying an annual turnover in excess of 28 billion francs a year. This is without counting the 200 or so clothing manufacturers also based in the area employing a further 13,000 workers and with earnings of seven billion francs a year.

But Unitex, which itself was instrumental in the foundation of France's two most important textile trade fairs - Premiere Vision and Lyon Mode City - is all too well aware that in the modern world no nation's textile industry can simply rest on past laurels.

Fierce international competition forces those who want to stay successful to look forward rather than back - which is why a budget of 116 million francs has been set aside for the development of the proposed Textile Centre of Excellence.

"The aim throughout this project is to equip the professionals of the textile trade with the most modern tools available, while simultaneously carrying out our traditional work of promoting to the world beyond the Rhone-Alpes region the quality and versatility of the textiles produced here," says Unitex.

By Sonia Roberts