Manufacturing Sector Loses a Giant in Chuck Spangler

By Barry Waldman

The South Carolina manufacturing community is mourning the loss this holiday season of Chuck Spangler, the longtime manufacturing enthusiast who led the SC Manufacturing Extension Partnership (SCMEP) for six years. In his 28 years total at SCMEP, Chuck assisted hundreds of manufacturing companies around the Palmetto State to become more efficient and profitable. His efforts led to the creation and maintenance of jobs from Charleston to Greenville and all around the state.

Chuck died of complications due to Covid. He was 58 and leaves behind a mother, three sons, a wife of 37 years and a grandchild on the way.

Chuck’s loss was a crushing blow to the manufacturing sector and to people in the industry across the nation who knew him. A burly man with a soft touch, those who knew him speak of an indefatigable cheerleader for manufacturing.

MEP is a public-private partnership with Centers in all 50 states and Puerto Rico dedicated to serving small and medium-sized manufacturers with training and support. Last year, MEP Centers interacted with 27,574 manufacturers, leading to $13.0 billion in sales, and helped create or retain 105,748 jobs, according to the national MEP website.

SCMEP says it employs “a strategic, hands-on, partnering approach to help South Carolina companies improve their competitiveness, performance, and profitability in today’s increasingly demanding global economy.”

Upon news of his death, the encomiums poured in.

“It didn’t matter if you were a big corporation like BMW or a little one- or two-person operation because he treated everyone the same,” said Danny Johnson, vice president/engineer for North Industrial Machine in Hartsville. “He was a huge advocate for industry, big or small. He will truly be missed by all manufacturers in South Carolina.”

“I looked up the last email he sent me in September, and what was so Chuck Spangler is that he ended it with five exclamation points. And that’s what I think about: Chuck is all in, 110%, and his last sentence to me was about helping more companies,” added Cynthia Davis, business and industry manager at the SC Department of Commerce.

Chuck Spangler traveled the country offering testimony to the MEP model of supporting manufacturing in the U.S. Dr. Van Gray, professor of management, director of planning and accreditation, and associate director of the Center for Nonprofit Leadership, knew him from those travels.

“Chuck and I spent many, many, many, many hours, many days, many weeks together traveling on the road all across the United States, helping small manufacturers and helping promote the MEP system,” he said. “I am so blessed to have been associated with him for 30 years.”

Under Chuck Spangler, SCMEP, which for years conducted training at the Lowcountry Graduate Center, was a model for MEP operations across the nation, said former SC Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt.

At a national MEP conference, an undersecretary at the U.S. Department of Commerce made some remarks and asked the representative from South Carolina to stand up. “He said, ‘I want everybody to take a look because this is the best-run MEP program in the United States of America,’” recalled Hitt.

“Chuck was always willing to share his skills, knowledge, and expertise to not only MMA-MEP, but the entire MEP national network. He will be missed by all who knew him,” wrote the Mississippi Manufacturers Association in a tweet.

Don Bockhoven is CEO of Fiber Industries in Darlington and the outgoing SCMEP Board Chair. He remembers his first meeting with Chuck was an emotional whirlwind.

“I didn’t know what MEP was, but Chuck insisted on the meeting. Chuck said, ‘I’m going to get you on our Board,’ and he did. I remember Chuck leaving the office that day and it felt like I had known him most of my life.”

Chuck Spangler was raised outside Shelby, North Carolina and served as class president of his high school. He graduated from North Carolina State University in 1985 with a degree in textile management and earned a series of certifications, including lean manufacturing and theory of constraints. He served as board president for the American Small Manufacturers Coalition and on several boards including the National Institute of Standards and Technology MEP Leadership Team.

“His whole mission – and his life’s work – was around making companies more successful,” noted Susie Shannon, president and CEO of the S.C. Council on Competitiveness.

Chuck was proud of his record of helping business succeed but humble about his role. “I believe that when your eyes and ears are open, you can learn something new every day,” he said. “The thing about Chuck was, he was always on Cloud 9,” said former SC Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt. “He is not easy to replace. He was a good man and I’m going to miss him.”