Sakoatex Sweater Company in Rajshahi has gained a foothold in the global market only in four years with an investment of over Tk150 crore.
The factory, established in the BSCIC industrial area in 2017 by Enamul Haque, a lawmaker and chairman of Ena Group, created employment opportunities for around 1,200 local people, including 80% women.
Currently, around 800 people are now working in the factory owing to Covid shocks.
Islami Bank Bangladesh now wants to invest Tk400 crore in the factory, which will take jobs at the factory to around 10,000 over the next two years.
According to company officials, Sakoatex produces around 10,000 pieces of sweaters every day. Sweater prices range between $25 and $150 per piece –most are sold at $65.
They said their sweaters are mainly exported to Canada and Italy.
Mostafizur Rahman, in-charge of Sakoatex's yarn department, said, "We import around 8-10 lakh pounds of yarn annually. Of this, 60% to 65% yarn is imported from China. We also import from Vietnam and India. However, we need to increase yarn imports in future owing to increasing demand."
Farooq Sarkar, production manager of Sakoatex, said, "We have 200 automatic knitting machines imported from Japan and China each costing $28,000 to $30,000. Besides, the authorities have spent around Tk150 crore on plots, building construction, gas and electricity connections," he also said.
The factory has to transport products on trucks from Rajshahi to Chattogram to export to destination countries. It increases the transport cost. Other exporters in Rajshahi also face the same problem. To solve the problem, they demanded setting up a parallel railway bridge next to Bangabandhu Bridge to transport products via trains.
As the movement of trucks is stopped during Eid, they have to transport goods by air, which further increases the cost several times more.
Enamul Haque, chairman of Sakoatex, told The Business Standard, "There is a crisis of skilled workers in Rajshahi. Transportation is another problem. These challenges have to be addressed. On the other hand, the government provides 1% cash incentive for export-oriented industries across the country. For this region, we need 2%. Otherwise, the industry will not develop in this region."
"There is no backward linkage industry in Rajshahi, which is needed. So, we have to make various parts of sweaters such as zippers and buttons in our factory," he added.
In the beginning, no one wanted to invest in Sakoatex as investors were worried about the success of this project. But the situation has now changed. Islami Bank has already proposed investing around Tk400 crore at the factory. If everything goes well, the work of the second phase of Sakoatex will start, he pointed out.
"Gas connections to industrial plants have been of great benefit to us. Once the railway bridge is built, many big industrialists will invest in the Rajshahi region."
For this, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has set up Rajshahi BSCIC Industrial City-2. In the district, there are possibilities in various sectors, including food and construction. But for that, bank loans and other support are a must," he added.
Enamul Haque further said if the factory expands, it will be possible to export more sweaters to many countries. Many people want to work in the sweater factory instead of going to Dhaka in search of jobs.
"This factory has given me the opportunity to earn money in Rajshahi. The working environment of Sakoatex is very good. It is suitable for women. Women are becoming self-reliant by working here," said a factory worker named Mili Akhter.