Gaston College is developing a World-Class Fiber Innovation Center
The Gaston County Board of Commissioners and Gaston College are working in partnership to transfer $5.3 million in funding to the college for the addition of a new Fiber Innovation Center on the College’s Kimbrell Campus in Belmont.
The new Fiber Innovation Center (FIC) will be a facility expansion of the Kimbrell Campus and be a resource of the Manufacturing & Textile Innovation Network, a partnership between Gaston College’s Textile Technology Center and Catawba Valley Community College’s Manufacturing Solutions Center. The MTIN partnership, announced on December 15, 2020, was formed to develop a regional workforce focused on advanced materials and textile testing development. The collaboration also affords better support to each Center’s clients in the textile and manufacturing industries, expand services to other related industries, and provides opportunities for research and development.
Gaston College President John Hauser has been working closely with County Commissioners and has moved forward with selecting an architect for the Fiber Innovation Center. Speaking before Commissioners on Tuesday, January 26, he showed two optional preliminary floor plans of 40,000 square feet and 22,000 square feet. Also, an exterior site plan showing the location of the new building on the Kimbrell Campus and an exterior concept design.
“We have started initial design meetings with the architect with the involvement of executives at Parkdale Mills, one of the Textile Technology Center’s vital partners and clients,” said Dr. Hauer.
“I engaged Parkdale early in the project and they have been strategically involved with the initial concept design of this facility that will transform the Kimbrell Campus to a world-class Fiber Innovation Center. At the same time, we were developing training and workforce development programs that will complement the full array of services at the Kimbrell Campus.”
Davis Warlick, Executive Vice President of Parkdale Mills, told Gaston County Commissioners that there is currently no facility like the proposed Fiber Innovation Center that can produce advanced fibers for advanced materials for industry. “This center will be a breakthrough for the textile industry because the fiber idea or concept conversion will be all under one roof. Currently, the system we have today is timely, expensive and highly fragmented.”
“The new Fiber Innovation Center will focus on sustainability, better performance and better product materials so we can produce the products that we need, and it will not be made in China or Asia but in Gaston County,” said Warlick.
The Fiber Innovation Center will provide a state-of-the-art facility to develop and test advanced fibers for the advanced materials industry for products such as crucial personal protective equipment, smart textiles for the defense sector, and many other proprietary products developed by national and international clients of the MTIN.
The FIC will be the only facility in North America open to industry that will house the entire range of advanced fiber development capabilities where scientists can start with an idea, move to small-scale trials, and work up to a commercially viable product ready for production. Through growing local and regional support from the textile industry, the college expects the Kimbrell Campus will become a world-class Fiber Innovation Center.
Funding for the project originated with the North Carolina Office of State Budget and Management. Initial guidelines stated that the funds were to be expended by December 31, 2020. Out of concern that the spending deadline could not be met, Gaston College and Gaston County administration negotiated with the OSBM and an agreement was reached for the funds to be directed initially to Gaston County with the provision that the funds be transferred to Gaston College at a later date. The funds were spread across multiple CARES ACT funding areas to support the County’s needs. The subsequent transfer of those funds to Gaston College through Gaston County’s Capital Funds are expected to be approved officially by the County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, February 23at 6 p.m.
In addition to providing support for the textile and manufacturing industries, the new Fiber Innovation Center will enable Gaston College to expand its Academic and Industry Training programs. The College will offer a two-year Associate in Applied Science degrees in Textile Technology and in Cybersecurity, a Career Now program which gives a pathway to these AAS degrees to high school students, participation in the Apprenticeship 321 program that allows Textile Technology Technician students to earn apprenticeship hours with industry and college credits toward their AAS in Textile Technology, STEM courses for traditional college and high school students to earn college credits toward career pathways in textile technology and cybersecurity, and other industry-related educational opportunities.
After the initial design work for the Fiber Innovation Center is completed, the College, with assistance from the State Construction Office, and approval of the Gaston College Board of Trustees, will engage a contractor for the project. The construction of the project expansion is expected to begin by summer.