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By Kevin Griffin, Hickory Daily Record
Click here for the original article and additonal video from the Hickory Daily Record.

Manufacturing Solutions Center Special Projects Director Tony Whitener shows off a rendering of the new building that will be constructed near the existing building.  Photo by Robert C. Reed, Hickory Daily Record

Site work has begun for a new Manufacturing Solutions Center building that will allow the center to expand and add new capabilities for testing personal protective equipment.

Some dirt has already been turned at the site and leaders from the city of Conover and Catawba County gathered at the Norman B. Coley Amphitheater Friday to celebrate the groundbreaking.

The new building is made possible by $9 million in federal COVID-19 funding appropriated by the state last September as part of the PPE Initiative, which also includes collaboration with Gaston College and other public and private partners.

The initiative’s purpose is to help support domestic manufacturing of protective equipment, which is now largely done overseas. 

Jodi Geis, the director of the center, and Tony Whitener, the center’s special projects director, said one of the major problems is that it can take from a few months to a year to do the testing for the products, a situation which makes it difficult to turn products quickly.

The center will expedite that process.

The new labs for testing the protective equipment will actually be located in the existing center, which will be upgraded to meet the requirements for testing.

Meanwhile, the new building will be used to address a problem the center has had for a number of years: a lack of space that Whitener said has forced them to turn away clients.

The new building will be used in part to house some of the center’s clients.

“It allows us to move some of the other people away and into another building so that we can use the leftover space for our new labs,” Geis said.

In total, the new building will measure 75,000 square feet. Part of the new space will be a resource lab that will serve as a “clearinghouse of information — supply chain, materials, contractors in the different disciplines,” Whitener said.

About 45,000 square feet of the building will be owned privately and used by private companies while the remainder of the building will belong to the city of Conover.

The total cost for the building is around $8.3 million, with the private sector paying about half of that.

In addition to the new building, the center was also able to use a grant to purchase $380,000 worth of equipment that can be used to test PPE and other products.

Since the project has been announced, leaders from Conover City Manager Donald Duncan to N.C. Rep. Jay Adams have said the work in Conover could be an important force in reinvigorating domestic manufacturing.

Whitener is also hopeful this could provide a boost to industry.

“It may undo what NAFTA did to the textile industry years ago as far as revitalization,” Whitener said.

He said they hope to have the new building complete within the next year.


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