Archive for March, 2021

3-29-2021 – Institute provides free training for manufacturing jobs

Posted on: March 29th, 2021 by admin


March 29, 2021



HUDSON — Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute is now accepting applications for the IMPACT (Industrial Manufacturing Pre-Apprenticeship Customized Training) Institute. The four-week program provides the skills and certifications needed for an entry-level advanced manufacturing job, while making students eligible for scholarships to continue their education in one of several programs at CCC&TI.


The program, which is available to students at no cost, was developed in partnership with local employers due to the shortage of qualified advanced manufacturing workers.


“The goal of this program is to close the skills gap our local employers face when hiring new workers, and also creating a talent pipeline for high-demand, high-skill manufacturing jobs,” CCC&TI President Mark Poarch said. “We have worked with industry partners to identify the skills and certifications that lead to employment, and also to remove possible barriers to participation by providing scholarships.”


The IMPACT Institute meets on the Caldwell Campus in Hudson 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Thursday, June 7 to July 1.


The IMPACT Institute provides full scholarships for tuition, books and supplies for students who qualify. Students who complete the four-week IMPACT Institute course also will qualify for additional scholarships covering the cost of tuition, books and supplies for one of the following programs at CCC&TI: Industrial Maintenance, Industrial Systems—Machining, Industrial Systems—Mechatronics, Mechanical Engineering and Welding.


To qualify for the IMPACT Institute, students must be at least 18 years old and have earned a high school credential. The IMPACT Institute is funded by grants from Duke Energy and Piedmont Natural Gas. To register for the course or for more information, call 828-726-2242 or visit


3-29-2021 – Granite Falls could get new development

Posted on: March 29th, 2021 by admin


March 29, 2021



By Carmen Boone


Mar 26, 2021


The Granite Falls Planning Board has voted in favor of a plan for a small housing development on Duke Street.


Rob Howard of Howard Real Estate said he plans to build 11 houses on a little more than an acre across Duke Street from Granite Falls Brewing Company just south of downtown. The development will be called Duke Street Cottages.


The neighborhood will have a private entrance and a pavilion surrounding a common area, Howard said.


The community will have sidewalks connected to downtown.


The projected cost of the houses will be $150,000-$200,000.


“The goal is to provide the home of the future, today,” he said. “Everyone deserves to live in the shade, with sustainable, healthy, durable, affordable and efficient housing.”


The board’s recommendation will go to the Granite Falls Town Council.


Reporter Carmen Boone can be reached at 828-610-8723


Posted on: March 26th, 2021 by admin


March 26, 2021



Note: This is the third  of a three-part series on new housing in the City of Lenoir.




Director, Communication & Public Information

City of Lenoir, NC


Contractors are building several new single-family homes in subdivisions across the City of Lenoir, and one local company is building new spec homes for the first time in more than a decade.


Single-family home permits have increased in Lenoir over the past few years. Owners and developers are currently building new homes in Georgetown Estates, Parkview, Powell Park, and Summerhill subdivisions in Lenoir. These are four of nine subdivisions in the City that are already served by utilities. Vacant lots are still available in all of them.


John Moore, owner of Brushy Mountain Builders, is building new spec homes in the Parkview subdivision. Moore said developers today have to overcome a lot of obstacles to build spec homes. Plus, the return on investment isn’t what it used to be. However, Moore said there is a lot of demand for new housing in Lenoir.


“The biggest challenge is that banks are not lending money to speculative builders, period. You have to be self-financed or have a backer to build spec homes,” Moore said. “But I’m optimistic. There is such a need, and interest rates are so low, I think this will be a good venture.”


Moore is building two spec homes in Parkview. He’s waiting on materials to finish them out, which is one more hurdle to overcome. Once those houses sell, Moore plans to build two more in Parkview and so on. To help attract residents into Parkview and draw new homes that the community needs, the City is expanding the greenway into the subdivision.


“I want to get something started and help build momentum in the City,” Moore said. “There’s a huge demand for new houses. The City is helping tremendously by connecting the greenway to our development, which will give our homeowners easy access. I think that will be a great amenity for this development.”


City Council has asked staff to find ways to entice developers and owners to build new, market-rate housing for several years. In 2019, the Caldwell County EDC commissioned the UNC School of Government Development Finance Initiative to study housing needs in Caldwell. The study reported what Moore and other local officials knew – the demand for new housing is high in Lenoir and Caldwell County. That same year, City of Lenoir staff created the Residential Ready to Build page on the City’s website. The page lists several subdivisions in the city that are served by utilities and have vacant lots ready to build.


“The Residential Ready to Build page has been very helpful,” City Manager Scott Hildebran said. “When I get calls from prospective home buyers or developers, I can send them to that page on our website. They can quickly find subdivisions with vacant lots which already have completed infrastructure such as streets, lighting, water and sewer, etc., and contact information on who they can call.”


In addition to high demand, there are more than 5,500 people commuting into Lenoir, according to 2018 US Census data. Some of those commuters might decide to live in Lenoir, too, if they could find homes.


“If we could capture just one percent of those commuters, that could mean 55 new single-family homes in the city,” Moore said.


Caldwell County Economic Development Director Deborah Murray said the new housing under construction in Lenoir will help attract businesses into the city.


“I’m thrilled to see the development happening now. We haven’t built any market-rate housing and seen it fill up in 30-40 years, but that’s starting to change,” Murray said. “In 2020, for the first time since 2007, our housing permits in Caldwell County surpassed the 2007 peak. Regardless of the price of a house, everything is flying off the shelf, once the ‘for sale’ sign goes up.”


Murray said the average private sector wage in Caldwell County has grown by 30% in the past five years and plenty of businesses are interested in expanding or locating in Lenoir. The county’s unemployment rate dropped to 6.3 percent in January, according to state data. Murray said there were 33,950 people working in Caldwell County in January 2021, which is close to pre-pandemic employment numbers.


Wage growth and job opportunities will attract more people into Lenoir and Caldwell, which will attract new businesses, Murray said. But it’s important that local leaders and investors keep working to increase market-rate housing stock to keep up with new demand.


“Caldwell County is growing, and we need to keep up with that growth and attract new businesses,” Murray said. “We’re finally at a place where developers are building single-family spec homes and market-rate apartments. When the Blue Bell apartments are finished, that’ll be 46 market-rate units we can look forward to filling up. We have companies looking to expand, and I’m sure developers will be able to rent or sell anything they want to build.”




Posted on: March 26th, 2021 by admin


March 26, 2021



Note: This is the second of a three-part series on new housing in the City of Lenoir.




Director, Communication & Public Information

City of Lenoir, NC




Construction is underway on two multifamily housing projects that will add more than 100 new apartments to the City of Lenoir.


Yorke Lawson and Tom Niemann, owners of Blue Bell Lenoir, LLC, are building 46 market-rate apartments in the old Lenoir Cotton Mill/Blue Bell, Inc. plant on College Avenue in downtown. Mark Morgan, owner of MC Morgan & Associates, INC, has broken ground on a 68-unit, affordable-housing project located between Wilkesboro Boulevard and Lower Creek Drive. Both developments should be complete by the end of the year.


The Blue Bell apartments will be one- and two-bedroom units. The property will have storage, a fitness center for residents, and on-site parking. Residents will also have key fob access to the parking area. The building is located at the intersection of College Avenue and Underdown Avenue SW. Lawson said they hope to have their certificate of occupancy by the end of September this year.


“The project is all about historic preservation and community development, both of which lead to economic growth,” Lawson said.


Given the design and the proximity to downtown, Lawson said he didn’t think it would be difficult to rent 46 market-rate units once the apartments were finished.


“There are plenty of people who work in Lenoir that would live in Lenoir if they could find apartments they want to rent in the city,” Lawson said. “Let’s hope it is the success we all envision, 46 market-rate, beautiful apartments a tenth of a mile from downtown. I believe that will draw a lot of interest.”


Morgan’s development, known as Kattz Corner, will offer 68, one-, two-, and three-bedroom units. The complex will have a 3,600 square feet clubhouse, a fitness center, a computer lab, a “Tot Lot”, and a large commons area for residents. Maintenance staff and property managers will be on-site. At least 10% of the lower units will be Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessible. The apartments will have vehicle access from Wilkesboro Boulevard and pedestrian-only access from Lower Creek Drive. The units should be available to rent at the start of next year.


“Communities need diversity in the types of housing available for residents,” Morgan said. “Many times, single-family housing is not a good fit for older people who are downsizing or for younger people just starting out. Developments like Kattz Corner provide options for people who want to downsize, but still stay in the community, and those moves open up other housing in the community.”


Morgan said that generally 30 percent of his tenants in a market like Lenoir are over 65.


“We’ve seen a need in many communities for accessible and affordable housing options,” Morgan said.


Blue Bell and Kattz Corner are both examples of how having the right people in the right place at the right time can make things happen. The projects also show how government assistance through various means can help developers move forward with new construction.


The State of North Carolina offers tax credits for target projects including affordable housing and historic preservation. As an affordable-housing project, Kattz Corner will receive a 30% discount on property taxes paid to the city and county. Blue Bell is a Local Historic Landmark, and is on the National Register of  Historic Places. The local landmark status gives the building a 50% property tax break, and the National Register status gives the property Historic Preservation Tax Credits.


City staff worked hard to help the Blue Bell apartments become reality, but the genesis of the project started by having the right person in the right place at the right time. About five years ago, City of Lenoir Downtown Economic Development Director Kaylynn Horn attended a Preservation North Carolina conference. During a recess, Horn approached Ted Alexander, Regional Director of the Western Office for Preservation NC and now an NC State Senator, about saving 122 Boundary St., Lenoir, from demolition.


“When I came to visit Lenoir, Kaylynn [Horn] also introduced me to the mill [Blue Bell],” Alexander said. “I tucked that property away in my brain. It wasn’t too long after that I was contacted by Yorke [Lawson].”


Lawson and Niemann have done several historic preservation redevelopments and they were looking for a mill in North Carolina to preserve and reuse. Lawson travelled the state looking at mills in Gibsonville, Mount Holly, and Gastonia, but he hadn’t yet found the right property.


“One day, I was talking to Ted [Alexander], and he said, ‘There are two mills in Lenoir,’ and he pointed me to Kaylynn [Horn],” Lawson said.


Lawson came to Lenoir. Planning Director Jenny Wheelock and Horn organized several tours of the Blue Bell building and the old Steele-Cotton Mill/Bost Lumber plant, and the rest is history. In addition to having City staff in the right place at the right time, the City invested a lot of resources to help the Blue Bell project along.


The City and Caldwell County, with the assistance of the Caldwell County Economic Development Commission (EDC), funded part of a School of Government Development Finance Initiative (DFI) mills study. The City funded environmental studies on the site and established an Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) under the guidance of Planning Director Wheelock. The HPC was able to declare Blue Bell an historic landmark, which opened up the property tax credits. City staff and Council members lobbied State elected officials to secure Historic Preservation Tax credits for the project, and the City is funding sewer and street infrastructure improvements around the development.


On top of that direct assistance, the City is building more greenway right next door to Blue Bell. Unity Park and Community Gardens is a four-minute walk down the street, and the City is investing hundreds of thousands of dollars to clean up the remnants of an old furniture plant that sits at the corner of Virginia Street and College (the Virginia Street property).


Senator Alexander, originally from Morganton and the former mayor of Shelby, said he is excited to see that construction has started on the Blue Bell apartments.


“That is a very serendipitous project, and I’m thrilled that it worked out,” Senator Alexander said. “I don’t think you can overstate the impact that a project of this magnitude will have in Lenoir. You’re going to have an enormous increase in tax base and a large number of people coming to live in very close proximity to downtown. That will boost the economy in downtown Lenoir and the rest of the City.”


In addition to City staff and elected officials, the Caldwell County EDC has been working behind the scenes for years on market-rate housing. EDC Director Deborah Murray said market-rate housing is one of the primary needs employers say would attract and retain workers in the community.


“The lack of market rate housing options has made employment growth even harder for growing businesses,” Murray said. “Employers are very excited about these new units coming on line.  I am certain Lenoir Mills will have tremendous impact on the future growth of downtown Lenoir.”


Mayor Joe Gibbons said he is excited about both projects, and he is especially grateful for the efforts of City staff, county partners, and Lenoir’s state representatives to help make the Blue Bell project a reality.


“Most of the time, projects like Blue Bell don’t just happen all by themselves,” Mayor Gibbons said. “It takes a lot of work by developers, staff, and elected officials. In this case, it also took effort by our State Senator Warren Daniel and State Representative Destin Hall. They worked hard to secure Historic Preservation Tax credits for Blue Bell. Had they not gotten those tax credits, this project wouldn’t have been viable, and the Blue Bell building would most likely have been torn down. I personally want to thank Senator Daniel and Representative Hall for their help in saving historic buildings in Lenoir. I also want to thank Mr. Lawson and Mr. Niemann for investing their dollars to save and reuse the Blue Bell building and others in the city. This project will be a great boost to our economy, and we look forward to more development in that area of our city.”


Posted on: March 26th, 2021 by admin


March 26, 2021




Director, Communication & Public Information

City of Lenoir, NC



The new year will bring new places to live in Downtown Lenoir as developers finish up work on two new housing projects in the heart of the city.


Jesse Plaster and Angela Postigo are building five apartments at 1001 West Ave. in downtown, and Steven and Jamie Stewart are working on converting 819 Harper Ave. into a mixed-used building with office space on the first floor and an apartment on the second story. Stewart hopes to finish up in February and Plaster is looking to start renting out units in the spring.


Plaster’s apartments on West Avenue will be three bedrooms and two baths. The apartments will have an elevator and indoor parking. There’s already a private gym on the lower level of the building, and Plaster plans to subdivide the main floor into three spaces to lease for retail, restaurant, or a business.


“The demand for housing in Lenoir is very strong,” Plaster said. “Empty nesters as well as younger people who want to have access to amenities and be part of the energy and vitality of downtown. Also, there are a lot of people who work at Exela, Greer Labs, or Google, who are looking for rentals, and there aren’t many options for them right now.”


Less than 500 feet southeast from 1001 West Avenue is 819 Harper. Stewart said renovating the building is a way to help support the city and other downtown shops and restaurants. Stewart opened his own insurance business in 2018 and has been renting office space on US 321. The building on Harper has been vacant for a while, so Stewart contacted the property owner and made an offer. Stewart plans to move his business office into downtown and the the second floor will be a three bedroom, two bath apartment. The unit is right beside one of the City’s signature sculptures, Across the Grain by Thomas Sayre.

“This building was a good opportunity to invest in downtown,” Stewart said about 819 Harper. “I love to support local businesses, so once I move my office, and we have some more tenants living upstairs, the additional traffic will help everyone in the district.”


Across the street from 819 Harper is 818 Harper Ave., which was renovated by Maurer Architecture in 2019 and opened in January this year. It’s now home to a barber shop on the main floor and an apartment on the second. To the west, at 122 Boundary St. is Plaster’s first redevelopment project in downtown. The building is currently home to a clothing shop on the lower floor and an Airbnb rental on the upper. Just north, across the street, is 916 West Ave., which was recently converted to commercial and residential space, and further up on Ashe Avenue is a three-unit teachery that was recently built by the Education Foundation, Inc. of Caldwell County. The teachery condos will be used as an incentive to recruit new teachers to Caldwell County.


Many of these projects and others in the City have been spurred by City staff or assisted by City programs. Getting new, market-rate housing built in Lenoir has been a priority for City Council for several years. Staff has used grants, code enforcement, and communication to drive development. Downtown Economic Development Director Kaylynn Horn worked with Plaster on the Boundary Street building and with Maurer Architecture on 818 Harper. She also assisted with redevelopment of several other downtown residences via the Moving Lenoir to the Second Floor program.


“The idea behind Moving Lenoir to the Second Floor was very simple, yet very powerful,” Horn said. “It’s hard to get dozens of downtown property owners and developers to conferences to learn about historic tax credits and how downtown redevelopment can be done. So, we decided to bring the conference to them.”


In early 2016, Horn brought together a group of architects, property owners, and downtown stakeholders to discuss North Carolina Building Code, rehabilitation of historic structures, and utilizing historic tax credits. Horn also offered workshops on “The Power of PNC” and “Mortar Matters ~ Making  CENTS of Historic Tax Credits.” The discussions in these workshops opened up eyes and opportunities for redevelopment in downtown.


“The dialogue and open conversation that transpired among these stakeholders continues to benefit us today,” Horn said, “It was powerful to have everyone in a room together.”


In addition to the workshops, the City used grant funding to support walkthroughs with architects in various buildings. Staff collected data and took pictures and notes on many historic buildings. Property owners then had a clear and realistic idea of the potential their buildings offered and an idea of what it would take to reach that potential.


Moving Lenoir to the Second Floor brought experienced architects into 21 downtown properties, consulting one-on-one with 19 property owners. Seven owners completed architectural schematic design work and four projects have been completed including Folk Keeper Art Gallery and Charles Babb Jewelry Design.  From July of 2016 to June of 2017, the downtown saw more than $1 million private investment in property acquisition/sales and $480,000 in private improvements.


Two of the sites mentioned above were rescue operations to save the buildings from being demolished. Both 818 Harper and 122 Boundary faced code violations, were unsafe, and were under threat of being demolished. Staff collaborated with the owners to place the properties into the hands of those who worked to save these historic buildings and put the sites back into use.


Stewart’s and Plaster’s projects will build on the momentum generated by the program and bring more energy and people into Downtown Lenoir. Both men said they feel confident in their abilities to rent out their spaces.


“Lenoir is a really cool place to be right now, especially for young professionals that want to grow and help the community,” Stewart said.

3-23-2021 – Caldwell jobs surge, boost region

Posted on: March 23rd, 2021 by admin


March 23, 2021



By Guy Lucas


Mar 22, 2021


The number of Caldwell County residents with jobs took a big jump in January, helping the overall Hickory region become one of the state’s bright spots in employment for the month.


The number of county residents with jobs surged by more than 1,000, fueled by a similar number of longer-term unemployed people rejoining the workforce, dropping the local unemployment rate to 6.3%, the N.C. Labor and Economic Analysis Division reported.


The state also revised the county’s December unemployment rate, dropping it from the original estimate of 6.6% to 6.5%.


The January report may be showing accelerated signs of local recovery from the pandemic, said Deborah Murray, the executive director of the Caldwell County Economic Development Commission.


Caldwell County lost more than 7,500 jobs due to the pandemic, judging by the change in employment from the 2020 high of almost 36,000 in February to a low of just under 28,000 in April, Murray said.


“With 33,950 people working in January 2021, we are nearing return to pre-pandemic employment. We have regained 76% of the pandemic-lost jobs,” she said. “All told, it was a devastating year, one which is improving month by month. And it is our goal to regain all those jobs and continue to enlarge our economy.”


Only 18 of the 62 counties with an improved unemployment rate in January saw larger decreases than Caldwell.


Burke and Catawba counties both saw their unemployment rates drop by 0.1 percentage points, to 5.7% for Burke and 5.8% for Catawba.


The overall unemployment rate for the Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton metropolitan Statistical area dropped from 6.0% in December to 5.8% in January, tied with Charlotte, Winston-Salem and New Bern for the fourth-lowest rate among the state’s 15 metro areas.


However, Murray warned that the furniture industry, one of the Hickory region’s largest employers, faces a threat from a shortage of foam for upholstered furniture because of supply-chain disruptions related to the pandemic.


“While I am very encouraged with the January jobs report I also reserve some caution for other temporary losses that may be on the horizon due to the foam shortage,” she said. “We hope it will be short-lived and recovery fully underway in the coming months.”

3-22-2021 – Program offers students job training

Posted on: March 22nd, 2021 by admin


March 22, 2021



By Carmen Boone

Mar 19, 2021


A new program at Caldwell Community College & Technical Institute will give Caldwell County high school students a head start working in certain high-demand fields while taking college classes for free.


Apprenticeship Caldwell will allow students to explore an industry before deciding to join it, said Rick Shew, director for continuing education and workforce development at CCC&TI, who is heading the program.


The program offers students the opportunity to enter pre-apprenticeships or short training programs that provide on-the-job experience while they are still taking classes.


“A lot of our industries are struggling to find employees, especially those with the skill sets they need. This is a way of connecting students with those companies early on, so they can begin building those skill sets,” he said.


Shew said that students who start in a pre-apprenticeship in high school, then enroll in an apprenticeship program within 120 days after graduation qualify for the “youth apprenticeship tuition waiver” at any North Carolina community college. That means they can earn a two-year associate’s degree for free.


Some of the pre-apprenticeship programs that will be offered include biowork in a lab, CNA or nursing, advertising, construction, automotive and welding, among others.


“If we can help a student get on the right path early on, they tend to stay. That’s another advantage for an employer,” he said. “Three years after a student starts an apprenticeship, statistically speaking, across the state of North Carolina, companies have an 85% retention rate.”


Even though this program is just starting out, Shew is excited about it. He said it will help companies fill job vacancies and give students more opportunities for employment.


“This partnership we are building with companies will help them find employees more easily,” he said. “We just want to connect students to jobs and meet the education and job needs in our community.”


Reporter Carmen Boone can be reached at 828-610-8723

3-12-2021 – Free training for manufacturing jobs offered

Posted on: March 12th, 2021 by admin


March 12, 2021



Sometimes Krista Bridgwood has had to look far afield for people to fill jobs at Bemis Manufacturing Company, a plastics manufacturing company where Bridgwood is the human resources manager.


It’s not that there aren’t people in Caldwell County looking for good-paying jobs, but there are few local workers with the necessary technical skills.


Finding local people with the necessary skills is “not impossible, but it’s difficult. And what tends to happen, if there are only a few in the area and there’s five or six manufacturers, you end up sharing them, for lack of a better word,” she said. “It just becomes a vicious cycle. There’s just not enough talent to go around.”


Bemis currently has three vacancies they have been unable to fill “for quite some time.”


Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute has partnered with Bemis and other local manufacturers to offer a free training program to help address that shortage of workers with advanced manufacturing skills.


The Industrial Manufacturing Pre-Apprenticeship Customized Training Institute is a four-week program that will provide students with the skills and certifications needed for an entry-level advanced manufacturing job, President Mark Poarch said in a press release.


“The goal of this program is to close the skills gap our local employers face when hiring new workers, and also creating a talent pipeline for high-demand, high-skill manufacturing jobs,” he said.


To qualify for the IMPACT Institute, students must be at least 18 years old and have earned a high school credential.


Bridgwood said that many skilled workers who are already in the field are older and thinking of retiring in less than 10 years, so the demand for new workers could be even greater down the road. She hopes that the college’s training will help inspire a younger generation to enter the field.


“I think what programs like this do, especially if you can start in middle school through high school, is it generates an interest in something. We need the talent, but it also sparks the interest for the student … to know what it is what we do … know what opportunities await for them in their hometown if they want to stay in their hometown,” she said. “That’s what we want to do as well, is inspire people to go into these fields.”


The IMPACT Institute provides full scholarships for tuition, books and supplies for students who qualify. Students who complete the course also will qualify for additional scholarships covering the cost of tuition, books and supplies for one of the several programs at CCC&TI: industrial maintenance, industrial systems in machining, industrial systems in mechatronics, mechanical engineering, and welding.


To register or for more information, call 828-726-2242 or visit


Reporter Kara Fohner can be reached at 828-610-8721.

3-9-2021 – Lenoir company planning expansion

Posted on: March 9th, 2021 by admin


March 9, 2021



By Kara Fohner

Mar 9, 2021


A local company intends to expand its manufacturing in Lenoir and create as many as 100 new jobs over two years, officials said.


The company, which has been publicly identified only as Project Xplode, plans to buy another building and invest $10.2 million in starting a new product line, said Deborah Murray, the executive director of the Caldwell County Economic Development Commission.


The Caldwell County Board of Commissioners voted Monday night in favor of offering job-creation incentives of $2,000 for each job created up to a maximum of $200,000. The incentives would not be paid until the company could document that the jobs had been filled and maintained for a certain amount of time.


The average pay for the jobs created would be $52,000 a year, she said.


The company is also asking Lenoir to help seek a building reuse grant from the N.C. Department of Commerce to help pay for renovations to the building it will buy. Building reuse grant awards will be announced April 15.


Reporter Kara Fohner can be reached at 828-610-8721.

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