When consumers hear the words, “Made in the USA,” Jon Lewis wants them to think, “Made in St. Louis.”
That’s the broader mission of the construction of a new $5 million garment-manufacturing facility in St. Louis’ Grand Center neighborhood, which was announced at a media event on Thursday.
Lewis is the CEO of Evolution St. Louis, which he co-founded with fellow fashion veteran John Elmuccio. The 32,000-square-foot facility will bring in more than 50 jobs over the next three years.
High-tech 3D and seamless-knitting machines will be equipped to manufacture clothing as well as things like car seats and medical applications. The equipment — up to 90 machines — will arrive in late August. The facility is expected to produce the first batch of products by the end of the year.
Lewis is starting small, but he said he sees a lot of runway to help build a manufacturing hub in St. Louis.
“My partner and I, when we moved here, we didn’t just come to run 30 machines or 60 or 90 machines,” Lewis said. “The big factories in China have 500 to 1,000 machines. So we want to create that industry sector here in St. Louis and the jobs that go along with it.”
The project involves a mix of private and public investments, according to Otis Williams, executive director of the St. Louis Development Corporation.
“We provided up to $5 million in new-markets tax credits that will allow them to work with the investors to get real capital to the table,” he said.
Williams hopes the investment will spur apparel manufacturing into a major industry for St. Louis, along with geospatial technology.
“The opportunity to advance more jobs is exponential here. If we get it started, get folks trained and get more investors involved, I think it will easily see going from 50 jobs to 500 jobs in a short amount of time,” he said.
Why St. Louis
Lewis initially had eyes on other Midwestern cities for the facility — like Detroit. But he said he settled on St. Louis after a conversation with Susan Sherman, co-founder of the St. Louis Fashion Fund. Lewis said he was compelled by her ability to bring government leaders and investors together.
Plus, St. Louis has a rich history of manufacturing, and it’s centrally located in the country. “No other city really offers that,” he said.
During the media event, Mayor Lyda Krewson said the new Evolution St. Louis facility is a part of a larger movement to bring back manufacturing to the city.
“This modern, high-tech manufacturing center — Evolution St. Louis — is going to create many good-paying jobs and will continue the resurgence of the fashion industry in St. Louis. It’s going to provide opportunities for partnerships in local schools, community colleges and universities.
For instance, Evolution St. Louis is working on an apprenticeship program that would teach community college students how to operate its high-tech knitting machines.
“This is a great partner in St. Louis between .edu, .org, .gov and .com to come together,” Lewis said. “It’s about jobs, jobs, jobs and creating true sustainable economic development.”
Eventually, Lewis said he sees a half-a-billion-dollar opportunity in St. Louis.
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