For a West Texas town in the doldrums, Arnold Lorber could be a superhero.
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LIKE OTHER WEST TEXAS TOWNS, Snyder can no longer rely on oil. The Scurry County seat (population: 12,000) hasn’t dried up, but production in the area has fallen to a tenth of what it was just ten years ago, and tax revenues are off as well. So, a few years back, with an eye to diversification, Snyder officials built an industrial park and began to recruit manufacturers from around the country. This summer the first company set up shop—and it may just be the salvation the town has been waiting for. As luck would have it, the company’s 67-year-old founder, Arnold Lorber, knows all about survival, economic and otherwise.
Lorber, a Jew, grew up in the town of Kosice, Czechoslovakia. When he was eleven, the Nazis seized his father and shipped him off to a labor camp in the Ukraine, where he would later die. Soon the youngster began using the printing skills his father had taught him to alter official documents so that Polish and Slovakian refugees could stay in Hungary. For the next several years he and his mother and sister managed to stay one step ahead of the Nazis, fleeing first to Slovakia, then to Hungary, and finally back to Czechoslovakia. At thirteen, while hiding out with his family in Bratislavia, he bought a Hitler Youth uniform and used it and his fluent German to smuggle food and supplies to his family and other Jews.
Lorber eventually made his way to Caracas, Venezuela, where—although he had no formal education—he built a successful textile business from scratch (generations of Lorbers had been in the textile business in Europe). In 1966 he and his Hungarian wife, Aniko, moved to Los Angeles with plans to retire early. But he noticed that California had no textile industry to speak of, so in 1969 he bought three knitting machines, hired seven employees, and founded Lorber Industries in Hollywood. Nearly thirty years later, Lorber (now based in the L.A. suburb of Gardena) logs $110 million a year in revenues and has more than ninety high-speed knitting machines and some 560 employees.
Lorber’s new textile mill in Snyder employs 55 people and has an annual payroll of $1.4 million; both numbers will increase if his vision of a campus of textile mills is realized. West Texas cotton producers are benefiting financially as well, for the mill requires 25,000 bales of cotton a year to process 250,000 pounds of yarn a week. On a recent trip to Texas, Lorber—a short, slender man with a full head of steel-gray hair—pronounced himself too busy to sit for an interview, but he has previously said that the reason he moved into Snyder wasn’t only the cheaper energy and transportation costs and the easy access to the best raw materials in the world. It was the people. Says Michael Gruner, the CEO of Lorber Industries of Texas: “It’s so refreshing to see the terrific work ethic and the can-do attitude they have. It will be the difference between success and failure.”