N.C. State University will rename its textile college following a $28 million donation, the largest in the program’s 119-year history.
On Friday, Chancellor Randy Woodson announced that the college will now be called the Wilson College of Textiles, in honor of the family of alumnus Frederick Eugene Wilson Jr., a business owner from High Point.
The gift from the Wilsons will be invested in an endowment to provide ongoing support for faculty, research and facilities for the only textile college remaining in the United States, according to the university.
Fred Wilson is is chairman of the board of his family-owned business, Piedmont Chemical Industries, Inc., based in High Point. The company historically made textile chemicals that used yarn and fabric. The business was started in 1938 by Wilson’s father when the textile business was thriving in North Carolina.
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Wilson said it is time to invest in textiles, which are emerging again in the United States after a long period of decline, including mill closures and an exodus for cheaper labor in Asian countries.
It will be important to prepare students for jobs in high-tech textile work, he said.
“We feel it’s right because several of N.C. State’s competitors — Georgia Tech, Clemson, Auburn — they have more or less fallen back in the textile business. They have not really pushed that, and we think it’s time to take a strong stance,” Wilson said in an interview. “It’s economic, as well as a long-term position.”
When the U.S. industry was hammered by globalization, Wilson said his business adapted with products such as carpet, cosmetic, personal care and other products. “We were trying to scope wherever our equipment and our marketing could take us and make sense,” he said.
Now, Wilson believes, the textile industry “will be getting stronger rather than weaker.”
Woodson, in a news release from the university, said the Wilson donation will ensure that N.C. State’s textile college will be a leader and innovator for years to come. In recent years the college has turned its research to new directions such as fiber chemistry and digital printing.
“Textiles has been an important part of our university’s story, and North Carolina’s economy, for more than a century,” Woodson said in a prepared statement. “As the industry has changed, NC State has been able to change along with it — to purposefully adapt, to innovate and to keep pushing forward. Our faculty has built expertise in a wide range of textile applications and specialties. The Wilson family’s gift will empower us to prepare students for success in a resurgent textile industry, inspire investment through key partnerships and initiatives, and make a real difference for our state and beyond.”
The family has generational ties to N.C. State and the textile college.
Wilson’s son, Frederick “Rick” Eugene Wilson III, is a 1987 graduate and his daughter, Elizabeth “Cres” Wilson Calabrese, is a 1989 graduate. His grandson, Frederick “Rede” Wilson IV, earned a degree in polymer and color chemistry two years ago.
The Wilson College of Textiles is only the second at NCSU to be renamed following a large endowment gift. The first was the Poole College of Management, after Lonnie and Carol Poole gave the college $37 million in 2010. Lonnie Poole, a 1959 engineering graduate, founded Waste Industries USA.