A coalition of garment industry unions, manufacturers and trade groups has released a dramatic new report that comprehensively outlines the current state of New York City's garment district, highlights several serious, immediate threats to its future viability, and lays out an action plan for protecting it.

The report, entitled "The Garment Center: Still in Fashion," is the result of several months of intensive research, interviews and analysis by the New York Industrial Retention Network (NYIRN) on the Special Garment Center District (an area of special zoning in midtown west designed to retain manufacturing space at affordable rents). The report contains three key findings:

Nearly three quarters of the employment and space in the Special District remains in the apparel industry, despite significant rent pressures. Within the District, almost 13,500 people are employed in the apparel industry out of a total employment base of approximately 18,500. The garment industry citywide continues to be one of the City's largest single economic components, with a total annual economic impact of more than $20bn.

However, fully 60 per cent of the garment companies in the district have leases set to expire by the end of 2002.

There have been over 200 illegal conversions of manufacturing space to other uses within the Center, despite the Special District zoning.

"These findings make it very clear that the apparel industry is still of tremendous importance to the City's overall economy and the economy of this particular area," said NYIRN executive director Adam Friedman. "However, with more than half of the garment companies' leases expiring over the next year and a half and illegal conversions becoming a daily occurrence, this could turn out to be an economic disaster for both the garment industry and the City."

Stuart Meyer, owner of Stanley Pleating and Stitching, said, "I have been operating in the garment district for many years, and it is important that my business be able to stay here near my customers. I hope the City can do something to protect those of us who are really dependent on the future of the garment center."

"There are several immediate steps the City can take to address this looming crisis, starting with the most basic: simply start enforcing the zoning law in the special district," said UNITE president Jay Mazur. "The industry has come together here to offer a number of solutions for helping to maintain the viability of this multi-billion dollar enterprise, and we are now anxious to work with the City to implement them."