May 19, Durham, NC – The North Carolina Manufacturing Extension Partnership (NCMEP), the official representative of the MEP National Network™ and NIST MEP in North Carolina, announce the winners of the 2022 Manufacturing Leadership Awards. The NCMEP award program recognizes manufacturers for their commitment to the North Carolina manufacturing sector, as proven by outstanding performance in the areas of manufacturing excellence, sustainable manufacturing, innovation, workforce development and economic development/developing markets.
The winners of the 2022 Manufacturing Leadership Awards
MANUFACTURING EXCELLENCE: 3C STORE FIXTURES
Located in Wilson, NC 3C Store Fixtures (3C) has specialized in the development of innovative retail interiors inspired by customers’ brand identity since 1975. They are a one-stop shop for conceptual design, engineering, construction management, full-service manufacturing, logistics, consolidation, and installation. Their clients mostly consist of big-box retailers and franchises, a few of their customers are The UPS Store, United States Postal Service, IKEA, Walmart, Orangetheory Fitness, European Wax Center, Amazing Lash Studio, Merle Norman, V’s Barbershop, RNR Tire Express, Lowe’s Home Improvement, Wellfound Foods, Hershey, Love’s Travel Stop, and Vio Med Spa.
At 3C, they not only think of coworkers as part of their team, but as part of their family. 3C has a high employee retention rate, with employees averaging 16 years and even a few employees north of 40 years.
3C partners with Wilson Community College to develop internal talent in multiple areas of business. 3C regularly offers internships through the NC State University RuralWorks! program. This allows 3C to work with the top students from NC State University in engineering, IT and business, often resulting in a permanent hire. They also host job shadowing events and hire interns from the local high school system along with the Wilson Academy of Applied Technology (WAAT).
3C is ISO 9001:2015 certified and utilizes a Lean Manufacturing system and is a certified IKEA “IWAY” supplier. This certification was earned in recognition of how 3C responsibly sourced products, services, and materials while positively impacting people, society, and the planet. 3C is FSC Certified (Forestry Stewardship Council). Their FSC certification ensures products come from responsibly managed forests that provide environmental, social, and economic benefits. 3C also was the recipient of the United States Postal Service’s Supplier Sustainability Excellence Award. A Six Sigma project was recently completed which transformed the way parts are processed and transported throughout the manufacturing process. This allowed the organization to reduce time by an average of 8% for assembly labor on specific fixtures.
3C is constantly investing in new equipment and facility upgrades to remain an industry leader. 1.1 million dollars in equipment upgrades were made in 2021. It consisted of new machinery, building updates, software upgrades and the creation of a transportation department. They have invested in multiple company fleet additions, including five semi-trucks and liftgate trailers.
3C continues to be charitable in their community. Over the past year, 3C Store Fixtures has donated to the following organizations: Wilson Forward, Gig360 Young Professionals, First Presbyterian Church of Wilson, Eyes on Main Street, Wilson on the Move, Mulligans Fore Kids, Wilson Education Partnership, The CHEW (Children’s Hunger Elimination of Wilson), Shriners Hospital for Children, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and The Hope Station. 3C Store Fixtures also spearheaded the industry-wide partnership with the Wilson County Health Department to help employees get access to COVID vaccinations.
SUSTAINABLE MANUFACTURING: NESTER HOSIERY
Nester Hosiery, established in 1993 and located in Mount Airy, NC, designs and manufactures innovative socks for mountaineers, firefighters, military personnel and athletes. They are a socially and environmentally responsible company that goes the extra mile to provide its employees with a healthy, safe working environment.
The organization keeps track of internal energy and water usage monthly; they use this data to compare their yearly resource consumption and set goals for the following year. In 2020, the organization used 393,229 less kWh than it did in 2019. To help achieve their energy reduction goals, they explore potential energy-saving projects. Nester Hosiery has partnered with their local community college to participate in an air leak detection program. This program allows them to quickly identify and repair air leaks throughout their production processes, reducing wasted energy from unattended compressed air leaks. It is estimated that they could save 16,000 kWh through early air leak detection.
Along with their customers, Nester Hosiery strives to reduce plastic and cardboard usage. Currently, they recycle corrugated cardboard, paper, packaging, polybags, plastic film, shrink wrap, yarn cones, plastic bottles, aluminum cans, wax-coated label-backing, box strapping, metal, and electronic waste. They also encourage employees to bring recyclable materials from home if they do not have access to curbside recycling. Nester Hosiery diverted 212.22 tons of recyclable materials from the landfill in 2020.
The Facility Environmental Module (FEM) provides them with a greater insight into their environmental performance each calendar year. FEM helps assess and set goals for environmental management systems, energy use and GHG emissions, water use, waste management, and chemical management. It also provides them with benchmarking their environmental initiatives year after year.
Nester Hosiery is always looking for ways to make manufacturing more sustainable, including using bluesign® approved chemicals. Additionally, they moved production from electric to natural gas. They are dedicated to corporate social responsibility and recognize that environmental stewardship is fundamental to being a good corporate citizen. Nester Hosiery aims to manufacture and source quality socks that meet their customers’ technical and ecological requirements while using sustainable materials whenever possible that require the least amount of energy, water, and waste to produce.
“Sustainability is one of Nester Hosiery’s core tenants and we continually strive to improve our processes and systems to be the best global citizen we can be.”
– Anna Draughn, Director of Merchandising at Nester Hosiery
INNOVATION: QUEEN CITY ENGINEERING
Queen City Engineering is an engineering and development company located in Concord, NC that pivoted to personal protective equipment (PPE) production in 2020. At the height of the pandemic, they began to design, manufacture and install custom sneeze guards and driver barriers for the transportation industry. Because of their innovative action, they did not need to lay off and cut back employees, instead, they were able to bring on additional staff. To date, they have sold over 4000 barriers to 90+ agencies throughout the USA.
The engineering company is centered around innovation and they strive to create real-world solutions. They have been asked by the Charlotte city council to help them address ongoing bus operator safety concerns and have partnered with Thomas Built Buses to develop a School Bus Driver Barrier system, the only OEM-approved product of its kind. In addition to all of these excellent projects, they also received a grant from the NCMEP for ISO 9001:2015 implementation.
“We feel that the overwhelming success and growth we have seen from our ability to quickly adapt to the economic swings of 2020.”
-Rex Carriker, President of Queen City Engineering
WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT: VBC MANUFACTURING
Volumetric Building Company (VBC Manufacturing) utilized the Customized Training Program and developed a dynamic relationship with Richmond Community College when they arrived in Hamlet, NC in 2019. Access to funding and resources allowed VBC to quickly educate their safety, quality, and leadership teams as they settled into their new location. COVID-19 restricted their ability to gather in large groups, resulting in minimal use of the funds in 2020. In January 2021, they were able to resume usage and continue to work with Richmond Community College and local NC trainers to educate and train employees at VBC Manufacturing.
VBC Manufacturing also worked with Richmond Community College to develop a modular construction curriculum (based on VBC Manufacturing competencies) to successfully recruit and effectively prepare potential hires to enter the modular construction workforce. There are no current models of a modular construction community college pathway. They plan to test their model to become the first in the nation to offer a modular-focused construction pathway (to support the growing industry in our region).
VBC Manufacturing is also collaborating with local high school career and technical education (CTE) program directors and instructors to embed VBC Manufacturing competencies into their current curriculums (carpentry, plumbing, electrical, and HVAC). The skills for the modular construction process are similar to traditional construction but very different because modular construction takes place on a manufacturing production line instead of in an onsite setting. For this reason, they are working with the CTE director on implementing time management, lean manufacturing best practices, and Six Sigma into their current curriculum. The collaborative curriculum will better prepare CTE students to enter a traditional construction job and at the same time be prepared for success in a modular construction setting.
“VBC Manufacturing is growing and has plans to lead the way in modular construction in the U.S. and the world. We hope the processes and programs we are creating will serve as models for the mod con industry in workforce development and the recruitment of local talent. Our relationships with Richmond Community College and our local middle and high school CTE programs will be vital in our success. As we work to identify skills/competencies needed to be successful in modular construction, we must communicate these competencies to our surrounding educational institutions so that they can embed them into their student learning outcomes. This exchange of information is the key to growing future mod con professionals.”
– Clifton Dial, Training Manager
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT/DEVELOPING MARKETS: KITSBOW CYCLING APPAREL
Kitsbow Cycling Apparel is located in Old Fort, NC. Kitsbow is one of the few U.S. brands manufacturing exclusively in the U.S. and the only manufacturer of outdoor recreation apparel in the U.S. that we are aware of that has implemented a Lean one-piece-flow.
Kitsbow created the first new jobs in Old Fort, NC, after the community suffered through a 30-year decline in employment opportunities. The outdoor recreation apparel company met all of its capital investment and job creation goals more than a year ahead of the schedule agreed upon with the NC Economic Development Partnership organization. Kitsbow Cycling Apparel invested in their employees and offered 100% health benefits, vision, dental, shoes and subsidized food on-site. Kitsbow continues to invest in the Old Fort community.
The organization recently celebrated the successful graduation of the first two cohorts of Old Fort Industrial Sewing Academy students, a program that is run in conjunction with McDowell Technical Community College inside Kitsbow’s factory. The two cohorts have graduated from the basic sewing class and have moved into more advanced courses learning the construction of a specific garment type, such as pants or woolen shirts. As a result, Kitsbow’s innovative one-piece-flow Lean manufacturing capacity is expanding and improving, delivering apparel built to order into customers’ hands in less time than in previous years
After ten years of private ownership, employees purchased Kitsbow with a group of local North Carolina investors on January 3, 2022. Employees now own majority shares in Kitsbow Apparel, PBC, organized as a Delaware public benefit corporation.
While traditional corporations are required to put shareholder return above all other priorities, in contrast, a public benefit corporation (PBC) empowers the organization’s leadership to embrace the “social and public good” of both customers and employees while operating responsibly and sustainably and placing the interests of shareholders on equal footing. Diversity and inclusion are also values threaded throughout a PBC.
COMMUNITY OUTREACH: STI FABRICS
Specialty Textiles Incorporated (STI) Fabrics has been an integral part of the Kings Mountain, NC community for nearly 6 decades. They understand that as their business grows, their impact on the community grows as well and they are determined to make that impact a positive one for generations to come.
STI’s success with the program is due in large part to the acceptance of its existing workforce. The involvement with Gaston County Corrections and their Work Release Program has highlighted their latest community outreach initiative. Since the start of the partnership, about 40 inmates have worked at the plant, weaving and warping yarn, cleaning facilities, preparing the fabric and performing other duties needed around the business. Inmates work on the first shift and are required to follow strict rules set by Gaston Correctional Center to remain employed. A single infraction removes the inmate from the work program and would take several years to earn another opportunity.
Out of 30 inmates sent to work at STI in the last year, 12 are still employed through the Work Release Program, 18 have been released, and ten have been hired full time at the plant. As a result, 56% of work-released inmates return to work at STI.
STI credits the $15/hour starting pay rate as the reason they have experienced a high retention rate. When the inmates are released from serving their term in prison, they will have the ability to pay for basic things like transportation, food and housing. At that time, they also have opportunities to increase their pay by working different shifts and applying for other positions in the company and continue to qualify for health care and retirement benefits.
STI understands the valuable skills that many of the inmates possess and the confidence they gain in knowing they have an occupation after their release. On March 30th, 2022, they sponsored an event dedicated to bringing awareness to the problems surrounding re-entry in Cleveland County, North Carolina. They teamed up with Officer Jennell McCorkle, who runs a Prison 2 Community (P2C) Simulation titled “In Their Shoes.”
In Their Shoes is designed to show the general public exactly how difficult it is to navigate society upon release from jail or prison. In this simulation, you are assigned a new identity and different paths to take upon your release. The simulation is designed to bring attention to this issue and provides the necessary resources offenders need after being released. In Their Shoes has garnered the attention of many high-ranking state officials, including NC Governor Roy Cooper, House Speaker Tim Moore, and several other community leaders that spoke at the event.
“The Work Release Program has been extremely beneficial for STI Fabrics, the makers of Revolution Performance Fabrics. The program’s success is largely due to our existing workforce giving it a chance to grow. Through our involvement in several re-entry simulations, the company better understands the challenges facing the men upon their re-entry to society. After they complete the Work Release Program, STI is able to hire a skilled associate that understands our company’s culture. We all get the opportunity to bring some light to the end of a long tunnel for these men and their families. The STI family and the NCDPS are working hard to make Cleveland and Gaston Counties better places to live and work.”
– John Kay, President of STI Fabrics
With interactive knowledge-sharing break-out sessions, vendors showcasing innovative products and engaging networking sessions, this year’s MFGCON was nothing short of excellent. Thank you to all of this year’s winners of the 2022 Manufacturing Leadership Awards for striving for excellence and making a difference for your local community and for North Carolina. We hope to see everyone at next year’s MFGCON.
The North Carolina Manufacturing Extension Partnership (NCMEP) is the official representative of the MEP National Network™ and NIST MEP in North Carolina. The MEP National Network™ is a unique public-private partnership that delivers comprehensive, proven solutions to U.S. manufacturers, fueling growth and advancing U.S. manufacturing.