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Dr. David Hinks, dean of the NC State Wilson College of Textiles, speaks to alumni as Thomas Poston of Daikin America looks on.

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Dr. David Hinks (L), dean of the NC State Wilson College of Textiles, and Michael Ward (R), executive director of the North Carolina Textile Foundation, with Frosene Zeis and alumnus Steve Zeis, the namesakes for the Zeis Textiles Extension for Economic Development, which provides training and certification in textiles and Lean Six Sigma at NC State University.

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Chuck Reeves, who retired from William Barnet & Son three years ago, reflects on his time at N.C. State.

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Dr. David Hinks, dean of the NC State Wilson College of Textiles, speaks to alumni as Thomas Poston of Daikin America looks on.

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N.C. State Wilson College of Textiles greets alumni spanning 60+ years

Posted June 24, 2021

 

By Devin Steele

 

HENDERSONVILLE, N.C. – The N.C. State Wilson College of Textiles and the North Carolina Textile Foundation (NCTF) hosted an alumni social and networking event on July 23 at the home of alum Thomas Poston (’81) and his wife Debbie in Hendersonville, N.C.

 

N.C. State Wilson College of Textiles Dean David Hinks and NCTO Executive Director Michael Ward greeted more than a dozen alumni who attended the college from the 1950s to the 2010s ­– more than 60 years – for conversations about their experience at N.C. State and their careers in the textile industry.

 

During the event, many of the younger alumni were regaled by the vision of one of the Wilson College of Textiles’ top longtime supporters, Steve Zeis (’62), who with his wife Frosene formed the Zeis Textile Extension Education for Economic Impact Center at the College in 2006 through a $1.5 million donation. Modeled after the university's extension service, its goal is to conduct training courses for textile industry executives and researchers.

 

Steve Zeis, a native of Istanbul, Turkey, enrolled at N.C. State in 1957 and moved to Asheville, N.C., in 1965 after being recruited by Northrop Carolina to help diversify the company's product line with textile machinery. He established his own business, ZTM Sales & Service Inc., in 1983 in Asheville.

 

“We had our own business for 37-odd years, and the last 10 or 15 years, we’ve retired at least 16 or 17 times,” he quipped.

 

He then offered an overview of the vision he and his wife share: To bring more textile production to the U.S.

 

“One thing that has forever stayed with me is I have continued to believe that we need to have more made-in-America products made right here in North Carolina and in the United States,” said Zeis. “Both of us believe that there is more to be done in America, not importing from the rest of the world, so that American workers can go to work and make a decent salary.”

 

That type of thinking prompted the Zeises to engage the Wilson College of Textiles via a financing group in Asheville, he said.

 

“It is aimed to set up satellite plants using American-made textile machinery,” he said. “Maybe someday, the Wilson College of Textiles and the (N.C. State) College of Engineering will combine efforts to make textile machinery with complete automation in this country, because we will survive with automation. We have the talent and the capabilities and, hopefully, someday, it will happen.

 

“Right now, we are completing our ‘missionary work,’ hoping to create textile products and manufacturing companies in Western North Carolina where there are opportunities,” he continued. “And hopefully through the efforts of the Wilson College of Textiles, we’ll be able to set up companies in Western North Carolina and eventually Eastern North Carolina and the United States in general. That's the idea, because we need to put all of our energies into creating products in America using American labor. And this is a big thing, and I hope this will happen – maybe not in our lifetime, but if we can plant the seeds today, those seeds will grow.”

 

Zeis called his wife of 60 years his “right-hand person,” someone who has been by his side every step of the way, starting as his secretary. “And when she learned the business, I was fired,” he deadpanned.

 

Hinks, who was named dean in 2014, later provided a quick overview of some of the College’s activities and its current standing. He also stressed the importance of the North Carolina Textile Foundation, which supports the Wilson College through scholarships; recruitment and retention of highly qualified students, educators and researchers; and placement of graduates. The foundation also assists in the acquisition and maintenance of state-of-the-art equipment and facilities for research and education.

 

“In the five years since Michael joined the NCTF, he and his team have raised over $50 million,” Hinks said. “That's what helps make us world class. It's the people that make something world class, and the way that we attract world-class people is to have resources to support them and attract them – whether it's future students on scholarships or faculty members who are given distinguished fellowships. That keeps us vibrant and strong. And within the Wilson College, in my view I don't think we've ever been as strong as we are today.

 

He continued: “We have more faculty members than we've ever had in our history. We have more master's and Ph.D. students than we've ever had in our history. They come from all over the world, and almost all of them stay in the United States, or they want to stay in the United States if it's a visa situation. Most of our graduates go to work in North Carolina, so we are an economic driver for our state.”

 

He explained that the Wilson College – through the Zeis Textile Extension, the N.C. Department of Commerce and the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina (EDPNC) – proactively works to recruit business to the state.

 

“These companies always tour the Wilson College, and we talk to them about how we can help them with their talent and professional development,” Hinks said. “In the last three years, we've attracted five companies, $100 million in capital investment and 1,000 jobs. We can go 10 times that if we can get the right infrastructure in place. Part of that is finding ways to partner with community colleges much more strongly to get the talent pipeline. It isn't just the bachelor's and master's degrees, it’s also the associate's degrees, the licenses, the certificates for the people who are going to be operators of automated equipment.”

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