Card-Monroe wins Chattanooga's 2013 Spirit of Innovation award

photo Charles Monroe left, president of the Card-Monroe Corp., looks over a company pamphlet with Jim Joyner, VP of corporate excellence, at the Spirit of Innovation awards on Wednesday at the Chattanooga Convention Center. Card-Monroe Corp. was awarded the Spirit of Innovation Award for its development of a new carpet tufting machine.

EARLY INNOVATOR AWARDThe Chattanooga Technology Council named local tech business Coulometrics as winner of the 2013 Early Innovator Award. The company utilizes supercapacitors to boost mobile power performance and enhance battery run time. Other finalists were LearningBlade and Sovee.

Charles Monroe says that if a designer can draw it, the tufting machines his Chattanooga company makes can reproduce it in carpet.

"We've finally reached the point that literally anything you can draw, it will produce in carpet," he said Wednesday after the technology was cited for helping Card-Monroe Corp. win the city's 2013 Spirit of Innovation award.

Card-Monroe developed a new carpet manufacturing method dubbed ColorPoint, described by the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce as the most revolutionary innovation in that industry in three decades.

The company has nine U.S. and foreign patents, Monroe said, terming it "phenomenal technology." Prior to ColorPoint, producing carpet involved methods that blurred colors and restricted designs. Now, manufacturers can achieve pinpoint stitch accuracy and 100 percent color density, according to the Chamber.

The Card-Monroe president, whose business sells to carpet manufacturing giants such as Mohawk and Shaw, said he expects 2013 to finish as one of his company's best since it started shipping tufting equipment in 1982.

While he declined to peg company revenues this year, he said business is going "extremely well." Monroe said the privately held company on Adams Road in Chattanooga is hiring workers to add to its 180-employee staff.

The company is benefiting from the uptick in the economy and in building, he said.

"The commercial [carpet] segment is strong," Monroe said in an interview after a Chamber lunch that drew about 750 people. He expects business in the hospitality sector to hit all-time highs over the next three years.

"A lot of the Hiltons and the Marriotts given passes on redecorating, those have expired now," Monroe said, adding the residential carpet business is picking up as well.

He said carpet tiles are taking market share, and his company's new machine is used most widely making that product.

While nearby Dalton, Ga., is called the world's carpet capital, Chattanooga is home to the tufting equipment upon which much of the carpet industry has grown.

Carpet equipment makers such as Card-Monroe and others headquartered in Chattanooga ship machines around the world.

Monroe said a tufting machine may have 50,000 individual parts, and it's that access to suppliers of those components that helps keep Card-Monroe in Chattanooga.

"The tufting machine is just about the only textile machine still made in the U.S.," he said.

Other finalists for the Spirit of Innovation award were Quickcue LLC and Variable Inc.

Ron Harr, the Chamber's chief executive, said companies here are creating jobs and making a real difference in the high-tech world in which Chattanoogans live.

"Few business people need to be convinced of the importance of innovation these days," he said.

Tech City

Katharine Frase, vice president and chief technology officer for IBM Public Sector, said at the meeting that a medium-sized place such as Chattanooga can become a tech city. She said there's a level of citizen involvement and public-private partnership here that's unusual for a city.

Frase said there's a climate of "being open to new ideas, being open to risk, being open to experiments that a lot of communities don't have." She said when entrepreneurs are looking at places to live, they want quality of life, a supportive business environment and what for them are the tech building blocks.

"Why not Chattanooga?" the IBM executive asked.

In terms of education, Frase said all cities need to think more about kindergarten through grade 12 or grade 14.

"Are we training kids with the skills for employment and are we retraining the adults for future employment," she said. "It's not like everybody needs a PhD., but they do need a good foundation."

Contact Mike Pare at or 423-757-6318.