Dan St. Louis and I at Manufacturing Solutions Center in front of knitting machine

Dan St. Louis and I at Manufacturing Solutions Center in front of knitting machine

Last week I had the privilege of meeting with the Executive Director of the Manufacturing Solutions Center, Dan St. Louis in Conover, North Carolina. Housed in a beautiful brick building, in what was the heart of textile manufacturing in North Carolina, the Manufacturing Solutions Center is essentially an innovation hub for manufacturing, where the most cutting edge machines and approaches to manufacturing are co-located with brilliant start-ups and entrepreneurs as an engine for change and growth in manufacturing.

Photo courtesy of Manufacturing Solutions Center

Photo courtesy of Manufacturing Solutions Center

Their bottom line: create jobs in U.S. textile and apparel manufacturing. And yet, alongside the serious and timely mission that is their charge – visiting the facility was akin to visiting a sort of Discovery Museum for the lover of textile and apparel manufacturing. Knitting machines popping out sox, antimicrobial labs, prototype testing, macrophotography of fibers of all sorts (a bit of science behind fiber strength and durability!!), 3-D printing, high tech fabrics that heat with the body. Inside this building the seeds of innovation in US manufacturing are germinating and have begun fueling the next revolution in domestic textile and apparel manufacturing.

Image from Manufacturing Solution Center  youtube video  

Image from Manufacturing Solution Center youtube video 

I was fascinated to learn about the center’s place in the history of North Carolina’s textile manufacturing. Dan St. Louis initially started the center in 1990 to address a need in the hosiery industry to update workers with the latest training. The center grew from there as the diversity of requests for assistance with manufacturing challenges came in. When demand for textile and apparel manufacturing began shifting overseas and local companies began shutting their doors, the Manufacturing Solutions Center would recruit their best people to preserve the depth and diversity of knowledge in manufacturing and, in time, to bring a team together to fuel the next iteration of U.S. manufacturing.

Jason Wilkins of InnovaKnits - beautiful, high-end knitwear

Jason Wilkins of InnovaKnits – beautiful, high-end knitwear

Of the many things I loved about this facility was that it is a thriving counterpoint to the idea that manufacturing is either stuck in the past or innovates past people. In spite of the emphasis on machines, technology and innovation, the work at the Manufacturing Solutions Center is solidly rooted in job creation. Not making money for elite founders of tech companies, not working at a breakneck speed to replace people but creating the kind of change that fuels growth to bring more people into manufacturing and re-grow the industry.
Indeed, pulsing through the halls of the center is the American entrepreneurial spirit: the promise of hard work, collaboration with great people, new thinking, and experimentation. These are not just buzzwords, or abstract ideas. They are alive in the actions of hard working dreamers with a bias for action. The Manufacturing Solution Center and similar gems of activity are the epicenters of the new American dream for manufacturing.
And Dan St. Louis blessed Reid Miller with no-nonsense advice on how to tackle the made to measure Riding Jacket animal and recommendations for top partners in the field to help make this happen (who we are very lucky to have in the Carolinas). Made to measure is just the sort of promising manufacturing innovation that can create jobs in North Carolina and other parts of the country. A-team coming together….Stay tuned!

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