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Warner: Solid Stone may illustrate future of area
Senator views local manufacturing at Solid Stone Fabrics
David Stone, from left, president and CEO of Solid Stone Fabrics, explains the company's business to U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va, as Luke Harris, right, vice president of manufacturing, listens during Warner's tour of the Martinsville company on Friday. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)
Sunday, July 22, 2012
By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer
After touring Solid Stone Fabrics Inc.’s plant uptown on Friday, an excited U.S. Sen. Mark Warner said it may exemplify the future of manufacturing in this area.
Solid Stone Fabrics builds on this area’s generations of manufacturing, but with 21st century skills, Warner said. He added that the small company is flexible, with quick turnaround time, and is high-tech. He said it makes a value-added product with environmentally friendly processes.
“This is great,” said Warner, D-Va., who frequently visited this area — often for plant closings as well as openings — when he was Virginia’s governor and since then.
During a tour of Solid Stone’s facility, Warner saw a process by which fabric is dyed without using water.
The colors on the dyed fabric “jump out,” Warner said.
Solid Stone Fabrics manufactures and distributes fabrics for dance, team/spirit, costume, active apparel, swimwear and other markets, according to its website. In 2010, it won an award for demonstrating resilience in an economically challenged area.
Warner was introduced to Solid Stone graphic artist Chauncey Dandridge, a Bassett native who studied art in the Washington, D.C. area, according to David Stone, president and CEO of Solid Stone Fabrics.
According to Stone and Luke Harris, vice president manufacturing, the company got applications from places such as Oregon, Baltimore and Florida for the graphic artist job, but Dandridge was the best candidate.
Warner said later in an interview that one of the things this area needs to do to recover is to keep young people from moving away.
The senator inquired and was told that some of the sewing machinery at Solid Stone Fabrics came from some of the area’s closed textile plants, and he met a Solid Stone Fabrics employee who had been a long-time employee of Bassett-Walker Knitting. He said he was glad a displaced worker had been re-employed.
At one point on the tour, Warner noted the recent controversy over the U.S. Olympic team uniforms for the 2012 London Games that were made in China.
“You could have done the production end of it here” at Solid Stone Fabrics, he said.
The company has manufactured fabrics for the French and Australian men’s gymnastics teams for the 2012 summer Olympics.
A former entrepreneur, Warner also asked several questions and suggested several ideas on how to possibly increase business at Solid Stone Fabrics, such as having state purchasing people come, as well as representatives of universities; and he suggested a funding possibility. He also suggested that the company invite former state senator William Wampler, executive director of New College Institute, to come by.
Warner praised the company by saying, “You couldn’t have written a better story. This is a poster child.”
He added with a laugh, “Are you looking for investors? I’m not in that business anymore.” But he asked for promotional material about the company.
Before entering public office, Warner was an early investor in the cellular telephone business. He co-founded the company that became Nextel, and ultimately made early investments in hundreds of startup technology companies that have created tens of thousands of private sector jobs, according to his U.S. Senate website.
“I was a business guy longer than I was a politician,” Warner said Friday.
Warner also heard a presentation by Rick Martin of Imago Ink, which does business with Solid Stone Fabrics. Imago Ink has a product called Flex Fab Advertising that is made from a stretchable fabric. It is used for, among other things, ballard (or post/barrier) covers (patent pending) at gas stations. Warner indicated he thought the product has a lot of potential.
Warner also said, or referenced, during the tour and in interviews afterward:
• Getting the federal debt and deficit spending under control is the most important issue facing this country. If the U.S. can do that, it is poised to be in a better position to attract business investment than China, Brazil, India and Europe, which are all having problems, he said. Warner added that there are investors with capital all around the world looking for a place to invest.
He also said he thinks most Americans are willing to do their part to help control the national deficit/debt.
Addressing the problem will take a bipartisan effort, he said. Warner was one of the organizers of the Senate’s bipartisan Gang of Six, which, according to his website, “has worked since 2011 to produce a comprehensive plan to gradually cut at least $4 trillion from the $16 trillion national debt.”
• For close to three decades, companies less than five years old have created almost all of the new jobs in America, averaging about 3 million new jobs each year, according to a May 22 Warner news release.
The release said that Warner and three other senators introduced bipartisan legislation, Startup Act 2.0, to help jump-start the economy through the creation and growth of new businesses and jobs. It addresses tax and regulatory policies, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) visas and research and development.
• He has supported initiatives to increase access to capital for startup businesses in areas such as Henry County and Martinsville. A news release said he has worked to encourage the return of jobs that previously went overseas and other initiatives to strengthen the economy across rural Virginia. Warner said he is fighting to extend broadband (high-speed Internet) service to rural areas.
• There has been “no silver bullet” for addressing Henry County and Martinsville’s chronically high unemployment, but diversifying the economy is important. Manufacturing will require more advanced skill sets.
• Job training programs in the U.S. need to be consolidated, which would improve efficiency.
• He was glad the U.S. Supreme Court upheld health care reform legislation. He added he does not think the legislation has been explained well to the public, and more needs to be done to control health care costs.
Stone said he thinks Warner’s visit shows that his years-long efforts to try to help Henry County and Martinsville are continuing. Stone also said he thinks Warner’s interest in Solid Stone Container could help the company.
Stone started the business from his home, moved into the West Piedmont Business Development Center during the startup phase, and bought and renovated a facility at 26 Fayette St., where the company has been located since 2008, according to a Bulletin article.
The company now has 24,000 square feet of space and 20 full-time employees, Stone said.