Dan St. Louis
The growing reputation of the Manufacturing Solutions Center, a state-supported complex supporting businesses, was underscored when representatives from 19 Central and South American countries recently came to learn about its mission.
Sponsored by the International Trade Administration for the Western Hemisphere, the visit included a tour of the testing and prototyping laboratories where research and development projects are undertaken for scores of manufacturers. Participants included governmental officials promoting economic growth in their countries and exporting opportunities.
A host for the visit was the City of Conover which spearheaded the construction of the 45,000-square foot facility occupied by the MSC and related offices. The city received $2.7 million in state and federal grants.
In his welcoming remarks, Conover Mayor Lee Moritz stressed the city was willing to “think outside the box” to partner with the MSC and Catawba Valley Community College to reinvigorate the area’s economy. He reported 15 companies have been started by entrepreneurs who have used the research and development and other support services.
Moritz said the city’s vision is to use the MSC to transfer a liability into an asset. The liability, he added, is the empty manufacturing buildings and 44,000 jobs lost by the recession and global trends.
Thomas Guevera, Deputy Assistant Secretary International Trade Administration for the Western Hemisphere, described the MSC as an “innovation center with job creation services…a model for enhancing regional competitiveness.”
Guevera cited structural changes in the world economy, requiring innovation “in the way we do business. Guevera said the MSC has assisted over 300 companies, creating and preserving thousands of jobs.
Guevera stressed that the regional approach is the key to economic development. “No two regions are alike…each needs to establish a competitive plan for economic development.
“We never know which undertaking will succeed or fail,” he observed. He said the MSC is an example of how a region can succeed with strategic implementation.
Walter Bastion, also a top official with the U.S. Department of Commerce International Trade Division, cited the leadership of MSC director Dan St. Louis and the staff for serving as a model. The Economic Development Agency of the U.S. Commerce Department awarded $1.5 million toward building the MSC.
In his follow-up presentation, St. Louis insisted his work “is all about jobs.” He gave an overview of the center’s current priorities. During the tour that followed, the participants met several of the entrepreneurs who are currently supported by the MSC.
Shelby Mason, founder and CEO of Bootights, a hosiery product that now has nationwide distribution in retail chains, related her experiences with the MSC and the critical role the services played in her success.