Dan St. Louis, shortly after accepting the position as head of the Hosiery Technology Center.
When the Hmong arrived in the Catawba Valley area, Dan St. Louis created a program to integrate them into the hosiery manufacturing workforce in 1996.
Addressing the annual meeting of the Carolina Hosiery Association in 1998.
In 1990, hosiery manufacturers and the president of Catawba Valley Community College made a decision with implications they could not foresee. They hired Dan St. Louis to start up a Hosiery Technology Center.
St. Louis was a rising star with a leading textiles company. He was taking a chance. With a special grant from N.C. College President Bob Scott and matching funds from Catawba County commissioners, the program was launched with less than $80,000. Almost another $20,000 was raised from manufacturers.
After the first year, the manufacturers from the Carolina Hosiery Association again approached the N.C. Community Colleges. Scott was ill, recovering from a severe heart attack. The administration insisted no funds were available.
The manufacturers walked down Jones Street the N.C. General Assembly Building. That launched 21 years of lobbying to protect the fledgling center and thus preserve hosiery manufacturing in North Carolina.
A significant breakthrough occurred when the executive director of the CHA was named to the board of the N.C. Alliance for Competitive Technologies. The CHA was given funds to create a strategic plan to pursue a partnership with state agencies. In the meantime, St. Louis was broadening the outreach to include in-plant training, the integration of Asian and Hispanic employees, and in 2000 the establishment of the nation’s only testing center devoted exclusively to hosiery.
As globalization changed the environment for U.S. hosiery manufacturing, St. Louis turned to marketing services. Now he was knocking on doors in Washington DC.
Modest grants from the U.S. Department of Commerce gave St. Louis the resources to
Promote exporting for manufacturers across the United States.
Now 22 years after taking on the center, he has realized one of his most cherished goals: development of a freestanding center to help any traditional manufacturer. Furniture, niche supply chain businesses, plastics…all are turning to the MSC for support. Hosiery manufacturing and testing still remains a core business.
In 1992, there were two people on the center payroll. Today there are 18 fulltime technicians and support people and 12 part-time associates. They are working in a sophisticated building that also will house start-up companies under St. Louis’ guidance.
The $3.2 million facility is provided by the City of Conover. St. Louis participated – even led – the recruiting of funds from state and federal agencies to give Conover the resources to build the 30,000 square foot facility.
A hands-on manager, St. Louis insisted his office be located in the back of the building adjacent to laboratories and work stations. “I want to be where the action is,” he has insisted.
Manufacturing is alive in North Carolina and is growing in the Northwestern area of the state, he asserts. The 400-plus people who came for the opening of the center realize that his commitment directly is linked to the health of manufacturing.