WANTED: ENTREPRENEURS

Paul Fogleman,

Demand for made-in-America products is poised to fuel a renaissance in U.S. manufacturing. But there is an obstacle: lack of entrepreneurs in manufacturing.

Leaders at the Textile Technology Center and the Manufacturing Solutions Center report retailers and marketers are asking for U.S sources of consumer and industrial products. But there are not enough manufacturers to meet the demand. Hundreds of manufacturing and supplier companies disappeared with the whirlwind of globalization in the 1990s.

Dan St. Louis, manager of the MSC in Conover, and Sam Buff, director of the Textile Technology Center in Belmont say they a poised to help start-ups. Their operations can assist with training personnel and development of high-performance products. The centers also are resources for market directions, including exporting.

At the MSC space is available for starting an operation in incubator space. Two entrepreneurs have launched niche businesses at the MSC with help from center personnel. Scott Ian McFarland moved to Hickory from New York City to start a business after learning about St Louis’ program.

St. Louis says there are entrepreneurs and retailers looking for companies to make higher-quality socks and other knitwear that carry profitable margins. “I have companies that tell me they are booked up and can take on no more customers,” he reports.

Twenty years ago there were 320 hosiery companies in North Carolina alone. Today the number is counted in the dozens. The survivors are making top quality products with sophisticated technologies.

Men and women who start new manufacturing companies face some of the same challenges that confronted an earlier generation, among them finding skilled motivated employees. The centers are working on this issue with strategies that include tours and presentations to public school students. The objective is to show that manufacturing is not a dead-end path the past.

Also, today’s entrepreneurs have resources that 20th century owners lacked: access to the MSC and Textile Technology Center and their extensive support.

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