North Carolina Town, Conover, North Carolina, Creates New Manufacturing Economy, Spurs Job Growth

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Once a manufacturing hub enjoying high employment, Conover, N.C. spiraled to a 14 percent unemployment rate when local plants moved or closed. The city and local community college secured $8 million in grants to stimulate entrepreneurship, business recruitment and job creation. The Manufacturing Solutions Center, a high-tech testing lab and small business accelerator, is a catalyst to spawn the new economy.

The Manufacturing Solutions Center, in Conover, N.C., is a high-tech testing lab and small business accelerator. Here, a test determines if fabric will tear with the grain of the yarn. This particular piece of cloth failed the test.

The Manufacturing Solutions Center, in Conover, N.C., is a high-tech testing lab and small business accelerator. Here, a test determines if fabric will tear with the grain of the yarn. This particular cloth failed the test.

"American made products may cost more, but they are in demand overseas because of the better quality and faster delivery time," said Dan St. Louis, executive director of the Manufacturing Solutions Center.

Manufacturing is returning to the United States.

Budding inventors from Vermont, Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina and places throughout the world have used the Manufacturing Solutions Center (MSC) to develop new filtered water pitchers, mis-matched socks, rehabilitation braces for horses and more.

The MSC is a manufacturing business accelerator and high-tech testing lab under the umbrella of Catawba Valley Community College (CVCC) in Hickory, N.C.

Unlike a traditional business incubator which offers office space and training, the MSC creates prototypes, develops products for the marketplace, connects business owners with manufacturers, markets products and establishes distribution pathways. Simultaneously, inventors and entrepreneurs learn how to operate and sustain a successful business.

On Thursday, the MSC held its grand opening and dedication at its new and expanded location at the economic development hub, called Conover Station, in downtown Conover.

The MSC staff receives an average of 10-12 inquiries daily from all over the world. To better accommodate them, the MSC increased its space from 6,000 sq. ft. to 30,000 sq. ft. with a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Dept. of Commerce Economic Development Agency.

The North Carolina city (pop. 8,165) was once a beacon for textile and furniture manufacturing. But after 9/11 and the onslaught of companies either moving offshore or closing, Conover’s unemployment rate rose to 14 percent. Countywide, 34,000 jobs were – gone.

City leaders acted quickly to form a recovery plan to develop a new manufacturing economy connecting with the MSC as the catalyst to spearhead business development and job growth.

“We had the talent pool already here. We just needed to find opportunities for our citizens to secure work,” said Conover Mayor Lee Moritz, Jr.

The City of Conover received $6.5 million worth of grants to build Conover Station, which includes access to the research and development library at NC State University in Raleigh.
“Our approach is that entrepreneurs will bring and mature their ideas at the MSC campus and eventually form their own company which they will locate here,” said Moritz.

Officials in Washington, DC took notice. The Conover Station plan with the MSC has become the benchmark for forming public and private economic development partnerships through the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration (EDA).

Conover City Manager Donald Duncan outlined the partnership included grants from the EDA, Housing and Urban Development, (HUD), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the EPA Brownfield program, Golden L.E.A.F. (Long Term Economic Advancement Foundation), North Carolina Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, U.S. Federal Highway Administration and the North Carolina Department of Transportation.

Acting Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Matt Erskine said, “Where you move the needle in manufacturing, you move the needle in the overall economy. In America, We are seeing a resurgence of manufacturing in America because of our entrepreneurial spirit, innovation, research and development, our training and workforce, our ability to deliver and our desire to work with the customer.”

MSC Executive Director Dan St. Louis added that even though American made products may cost more, they are in demand overseas because of the better quality and faster delivery time. Internationally, companies are sending representatives to the United States to ensure their products are actually being made here.

CVCC President Dr. Garrett D. Hinshaw said, "The Manufacturing Solutions Center is another prime example of excellence for manufacturing in the United States. The combination of an innovative facility and experts across manufacturing sectors will create, maintain, and improve jobs throughout the country. We are proud to partner with the City of Conover to move our vision forward and meet the needs of our global economy."

For information, visit http://www.manufacturingsolutionscenter.org/ or call the MSC at (828)327-7000 ext. 4265.

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Greta Lint
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