Fred Rogers, infamously known as “Mister Rogers” perfectly defined community leadership in his quote — “We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say, It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.”

In 2012, with the help of Duke Energy, we started the tradition of awarding the Community Leadership Award to recognize and celebrate the efforts of individuals in Catawba County who “see the need and fill it.” These recipients go above and beyond to make a positive impact towards community and economic development. This is the highest honor the Catawba County Chamber bestows on any individual.

On Feb. 14 at our Annual Shareholders & Investors Luncheon, before an audience of 530 representatives from the business community, we proudly named Dan St. Louis, director of the Manufacturing Solutions Center at Catawba Valley Community College, our 2017 award recipient. Notably, when accepting the award, he passed all the praise to his team. His humility and servant leadership qualities alone make him most deserving of his honor. However, call up any local hosiery/textile manufacturer and they would say Dan, along with his team, has saved their business, including scores of jobs, more than likely, on multiple occasions over his 28-year tenure.

A summary of Dan’s career and his contributions to the economy and lifestyles of the region would be as follows:

  • Early 1990s. Development of a program to put trained technicians in thriving hosiery plants, many of which were moving to computer-driven technology.
  • Assisting management in the implementation of technology to improve production efficiencies and to adapt to customer inventory demands.
  • Mid-1990s. Creation of the nation’s only testing laboratory for hosiery products, including socks and pantyhose. This saved manufacturers and their retail customers tens of thousands of dollars and created jobs for local people employed in the laboratory.
  • 21st century arrives with upheavals caused by globalization in the marketplace. Hundreds of people lose their jobs as Catawba County mills turn to off-shore sources where cheaper labor and few regulations drive down costs. Small greige mills close their doors. Dan leads delegation of hosiery executives to Japan to explore sales opportunities. A sales coordinator is hired to develop markets in Europe.
  • Partnerships with state and federal governments expand. Through the North Carolina Alliance for Competitive Technologies in the 1990s, the Carolina Hosiery Association was selected for priority services from state agencies. This opened the door for expanded state support from the General Assembly and involvement with the N.C. Department of Commerce and its export marketing services.
  • As the economy pulled out of the Great Recession, Dan and his staff engineered the creation of the Manufacturing Solutions Center, a significant achievement with lasting impact to Catawba County. This entailed a $3 million endeavor with state, federal and Conover city governments and construction of a 30,000-square-foot building that houses the hosiery technology laboratory, facilities for research and development of new products, personnel training and the nationally-acclaimed Hosiery 101/102 courses for retail buyers, brand managers, and manufacturing marketing personnel.
  • Today Dan is leading a team actively nurturing new start-up companies. Within the walls of the Manufacturing Solutions Center are companies making innovative products for the 21st century markets, including the U.S. Department of Defense. He is pushing for the expansion of the incubator. But he also assists entrepreneurs across the United States, directing them to area manufacturers.
  • Dan and his team have a passion for igniting a passion in the next generation to pursue a career in manufacturing. He has hosted close to 10,000 eighth-grade students at the Manufacturing Solutions Center as a part of their Xtreme STEM Tour.

Aside from the written accomplishments above, spend five minutes with Dan St. Louis and you’ll experience firsthand his passion for manufacturing, innovation and our community.

Past recipients of this award are: 2012- Dr. Garrett Hinshaw (CVCC); 2013 – Alan Jackson (Bivarus); 2014- John Teeter (Pepsi-Cola); 2015 – Joe Lutz (Zenith Freight); 2016 – Paul Beatty Jr. (Duke Energy).

Lindsay Keisler is president and CEO of the Catawba County Chamber of Commerce.

This article was originally published Feb 24, 2018 at the Hickory Record website: