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New manufacturing and textile network launches from Catawba Valley and Gaston College

The Manufacturing & Textile Innovation Network (MTIN) is a new endeavor between Catawba Valley Community College’s Manufacturing Solutions Center (MSC) and Gaston College’s Textile Technology Center (TTC).

“The partnership is kind of an umbrella and a service. We promote both of the centers and what we do, and we’re also promoting collaborative partnerships as well,” said Robin Phillips-Hauser, director of business development for the network.

Catawba Valley and Gaston College have worked together in the past within the manufacturing and textile fields. This new partnership is a natural extension of their pre-existing relationship. In addition, the schools are geographically close to each other. From campus to campus, they are separated by approximately 25 miles.

“One of the big advantages of bringing these two programs under one umbrella is that we can leverage the assets of both centers and really begin to diversify the markets that we serve,” said Garrett Hinshaw, president of Catawba Valley Community College.

The manufacturing solutions center at Catawba Valley Community College. Courtesy of CVCC

The new two-year associate degree program in textile technology that the network will support begins in fall 2021.

“MTIN provides an opportunity to link education and training to the advanced materials and textile industry. This partnership includes a two-year associate degree, short-term workforce development programs, and creation of a pipeline of talent with Career and College Promise programs in our public schools,” said John Hauser, president of Gaston College.

“The Textile Technology AAS degree will begin in Fall 2021, while our short-term training programs are being developed now for a Textile Academy,” Hauser continued. “We are working with NC State University, the Manufacturing Extension Partnership, and our industry leaders to create a workforce focused on fiber, advanced materials, and smart materials. MTIN is leading the way by extending our current partnerships and creating new partnerships to enhance everything we do in workforce and economic development.”

A changing industry

The manufacturing industry has been hit hard in the past 20 years, especially in North Carolina. Folks living in western North Carolina know this decline well, as they have been seeing the challenge of finding and filling those jobs in their communities for some time now. This network solidifies the work both Gaston and CVCC have been doing to bolster economic growth in the region through skills training and close partnerships with companies small and large. 

“We’re getting older, as an industry, and especially the textile side, the manufacturing side, a lot of these folks are about to retire and we don’t have a big push right now,” said Sam Buff, director of the Textile Technology Center at Gaston College. “So there’s been a mad dash to try to figure out how in the world we’re going to supply the labor to these emerging markets here.”

The colleges are stepping up their work in attracting manufacturing companies to the region and building a pipeline of qualified workers to fill the gap in the market. 

The antimicrobial lab at the Manufacturing Solutions Center. Courtesy of CVCC

“From a 30,000 foot view, we hear from all of our manufacturers that they’re struggling to find quality employees,” Hinshaw said. “And so we are being very laser focused in structuring programming and workforce value credentials to make sure that we can connect those employers with quality individuals that are already here in the region or attract other individuals from outside the region.”

Both colleges are committed to focusing their resources on creating programs and educational pathways that have increasing relevance in the workforce. This new network is filled with partnerships to key employers in their region, and they have made it a priority to listen to them in every step of the program development process.

The MTIN works with companies locally, regionally, nationally, and even internationally. Some local partners to note include Parkdale Mills and the NC State School of Textiles. The network also works with the Department of Defense through subcontracts.

“We’ve worked with companies from all 50 states in the United States, and I think we’re still at about 46 different countries,” said Hinshaw.

What lies ahead

The future of the network and its impact is yet to be determined but the driving vision is concrete. 

“Our vision is to create an end-to-end matchless resource for textile testing, prototyping, applied research and development, business incubation, and training,” said Phillips-Hauser. 

The MTIN is completely new and the team is expecting impactful innovations to come out of the programs and partnerships. 

“I think you’re going to see a lot of innovation come out of the centers, not only on the technical side, from the education and training side, too,” said Buff. 

They are hoping to build the next generation of employees for the textile and manufacturing industries. 

“We start working as early as middle school with these kids talking to them about the jobs and careers and the quality of pay in these industries.”

You can learn more about the MTIN here

Alli Lindenberg

Alli Lindenberg is an executive fellow for EducationNC.