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N.C. Commerce Secretary Keith Crisco says innovation has been a key to manufacturing success for more than 100 years.
Crisco and other state leaders said Tuesday that the Manufacturing Solutions Center (MSC) will bring jobs and industry success to Conover and the region for decades to come.
"I see the Manufacturing Solutions Center as a beacon of innovation and an incubator of business that can put our people back to work," said U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan.
MSC, currently located at Catawba Valley Community College, helps businesses and entrepreneurs test and develop products and ideas for production and sales. The center broke ground Tuesday on a new 30,000-square-foot facility at Conover Station, where it hopes to relocate as early as the end of this year.
During a ceremony to celebrate the new facility, Hagan cited 450,000 North Carolinians who are currently unemployed.
"Few sectors have been hit as hard as manufacturing," she said.
"Fifteen percent of the state's workforce is in manufacturing. If we are to return manufacturing, we need to change and adapt to the needs in the manufacturing industry."
She said companies like MSC can be job-creators by utilizing the manufacturing expertise and creativity of small-business owners who already comprise the region's workforce.
"We have folks who say the best days of manufacturing are over," said U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry. "They're wrong, and we're going to prove it right here on these grounds. We will use Dan St. Louis' knowledge to do it."
St. Louis is MSC's director. Crisco said he and St. Louis shared a dream for an innovative manufacturing center years ago, when both men were members of a manufacturing trade organization in Asheboro.
Crisco, a former manufacturing businessman himself, said he helped start Asheboro Elastics in the mid-1980s with 10 employees and a willingness to innovate.
"(St. Louis) is going to make an impact on this region," Crisco said.
"The jobs are sustainable, they're competitive and they'll pay well. The average manufacturing job pays more than the average job in all industry."
Conover Mayor Lee Moritz said he saw MSC's services at work in 2004 when it helped a local hosiery manufacturer solve a product quality issue. White hosiery products were turning yellow for an undetermined reason, putting a multimillion-dollar business partnership and hundreds of jobs at stake, Moritz said.
"I contacted the Hosiery Technology Center, now known as MSC, and they immediately stepped in as our partner," he said. "They understood the seriousness of the issue, worked around the clock to identify the cause and a corrective action, and within several days the problem was solved and confidence was restored to our customers."
McHenry said he also sends people with manufacturing questions to the MSC for answers.
"Don't be surprised if I bring a few people up here to show you off because more people ought to be doing what you're doing," Crisco told St. Louis at Tuesday's ceremony. "This place can help people bring, yes, paychecks, but also meaning in life."
Moritz welcomed those benefits to Conover and the region.
"The catalyst for the new manufacturing economy is MSC," he said, "and today our citizens welcome you."