Archive for August, 2021

8-30-2021 – Furniture’s biggest obstacle is image

Posted on: August 30th, 2021 by admin


August 30, 2021



By Guy Lucas

Aug 27, 2021


Business is booming for McCreary Modern, as it is for most other furniture companies, but it could be even better, the company’s president said.


The company could expand by at least 10%, maybe 20%, Rick Coffey said, if not for one giant obstacle: people.


Or, more specifically, the lack of people applying to fill all the jobs the company needs in order to meet the huge demand it is facing.


“I could hire 100 people tomorrow,” Coffey said. “Demand has never been higher.”


It’s a common refrain among the Hickory region’s furniture manufacturers, said Taylor Dellinger, a data analyst at the Western Piedmont Council of Governments.


While manufacturers nationwide have reported they need more workers than they can find, the problem is more acute for this region’s furniture makers, Dellinger said.


In spring 2020, the COVID-19-related business shutdowns in the U.S. and overseas caused the Hickory region to lose 7,800 of its 41,500 manufacturing jobs, he said. In June 2021, the region had regained all but about 1,000 of those jobs — but furniture by itself more than accounts for the entire shortfall.


The furniture industry had about 14,400 jobs in the region before the pandemic, and by June 2021 it was back to only about 13,000, Dellinger said.


Coffey said that officials at McCreary, as at other companies, have tried everything they can think of to try to lure more workers: The company offers $2,500 signing bonuses for skilled workers, $2,500 finder’s fees for any employee who recruits a skilled worker, $1,000 bonuses and finder’s fees for entry-level workers requiring training, generous and progressive benefits, an in-house pharmacy and nurse practitioners, and an unlimited company match of 25% of each employee’s 401(k) contributions, to name a few, as well as increased pay — even entry-level pay starts at $15 an hour.


The company also reaches out through any channel possible, including Twitter and Instagram, to publicize its job openings, pay and benefits.


And yet, despite all that, hiring people is the hardest Coffey has ever experienced in more than 40 years in the business. Even when the unemployment rate was around 3% it was easier to find workers.


Dellinger said the difficulty stems in part from the same things affecting other industries — a lack of child care options keeps some out of the workforce, and some remain fearful of COVID-19. Enhanced unemployment benefits have kept some workers at home, but it’s not a major factor for the industry, he said.


Demographics also is a factor: The portion of the region’s population that has the sought-after skills is aging, and many decided to retire after the Great Recession delivered the latest of a series of economic blows to the industry.


But a big factor is that many younger workers simply are reluctant to enter the furniture industry, in part because of its past waves of layoffs from moving jobs overseas and from recessions, and in part because many have heard older relatives talk negatively about factory work they experienced, Dellinger said. A large majority of the area’s high school students know someone who used to work in furniture, he said.


Coffey agreed the industry suffers from a perception problem among younger workers.


“There’s a bad perception this is the same furniture industry that left Caldwell County and Catawba County in the late ’80s and ’90s,” Coffey said. “It’s not your dad’s old company.”


The industry is highly automated now and offers a much improved work environment. Upholstery remains a very hands-on kind of work that is difficult to entirely automate, but in many ways furniture factoring today is not like what workers experienced 20 years ago, Coffey said.


Coffey’s company, like the others, has been hammering that message. So far, it isn’t breaking through to enough workers.

8-27-2021 – Caldwell County Schools see enrollment increase

Posted on: August 27th, 2021 by admin


August 27, 2021



By Carmen Boone

Aug 26, 2021


For this year, at least, the Caldwell County Schools have seen an increase in enrollment — just the second time that has happened since a long-term slide in enrollment began nearly 15 years ago.


But local officials hope it is the beginning of a trend.


On the first day of classes, 11,082 students were enrolled, said Libby Brown, community services director for the Caldwell County Schools. In 2020, the number was 10,792.


But the 2020 number may have been depressed by pandemic-related factors, including the uncertainty of in-person attendance and how COVID-19 was trending. Except for last year, the current enrollment is the lowest in more than 20 years.


According to enrollment statistics available on the Caldwell County Schools’ website, enrollment reached its peak in the 2007-08 school year, when 13,116 students were in school across the district. Since then, however, enrollment decreased every school year except for 2015-16, when enrollment went up by 43 students, until this year. At the start of the 2019-20 year, before anyone had heard of COVID-19, enrollment was 11,241.


“Progressively, we’ve seen enrollment decreasing within that time frame,” Brown said. “So we’ve kind of turned that corner with these higher numbers this year.”


One of the reasons local government officials have cited in the past for the long-term drop in enrollment was the sharp economic shock of the Great Recession. The recession was in 2008, but its effects rolled out and deepened over several years, driving local unemployment to 13% in 2012 — and many young families left the region seeking better working opportunities.


Brown said that Caldwell County’s economy, which has diversified since the recession and has been surging in recent years, now appears to be spurring an increase in young families again. People are coming to Caldwell County from as far away as California and New York.


“Families are finding jobs here. Most of the families moving here have school-age children,” Brown said. “There is job availability in this county and affordable living costs.”


Superintendent Don Phipps said in a press release he is excited to see numbers finally going back up again.


“Our numbers are up, which indicates that we’ve turned the corner from the lag in enrollment experienced over the last several years,” he said. “We are enthusiastic to see more students entering public schools and confident that our students will be provided rigorous academic opportunities in a safe, caring learning environment.”


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

8-25-2021 – CCC&TI welcomes first apprenticeship student

Posted on: August 25th, 2021 by admin


August 25, 2021



By Carmen Boone

Aug 24, 2021


Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute launched its new apprenticeship program on Tuesday.


Apprenticeship Caldwell is a program that provides students with on-the-job experience while they are still taking classes.


To celebrate the launch, CCC&TI held a signing ceremony where Taylor Ray Hood signed on to be an apprentice at pharmacuetical maker Exela Pharma Sciences in Lenoir, making him the first student participating in the program.


“I wanted to work at Exela to begin with,” Hood said. “I’m excited just being here.”


Beni Kincaid, Exela’s director of human resources said, “We picked a really good one. Having people coming in with a taste (of the job) is beneficial. The sky is the limit now.”


Apprenticeship Caldwell is an amazing opportunity for students, said Rick Shew, director for continuing education and workforce development at CCC&TI, who is heading the program.


“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.


CCC&TI President Mark Poarch told Hood, “This is going to pave the way for your success and your future.”


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

8-23-2021 – Fairfield celebrates 100 years in Caldwell

Posted on: August 23rd, 2021 by admin


August 23, 2021




Aug 20, 2021 Updated Aug 20, 2021


The Great Depression, the 2008 Great Recession and a pandemic that doesn’t seem to end are all on the list of what Fairfield Chair Company has weathered in its 100 years in Caldwell County.


The company’s longstanding presence and atmosphere have led to multiple generations working for Fairfield, said Michael Graybeal, manager of Fairfield Plant #2, as he made his rounds on the factory floor, encouraging banter.


“We like to keep it fun around here. We try to have a good time while still getting things done,” he said.


Many employees, such as Jody Baldwin, have familial ties to the factory.


“My favorite memory is being able to work with my grandma, Hallie Childress, who worked for Fairfield for over 30 years,” Baldwin said.


Fairfield Chair was established in 1921 by W.J. Lenoir, James Harper Beall and E.F. Allan in Lenoir. The company has two plants in Caldwell County and a showroom in High Point. The company is celebrating its centennial year.


Graybeal said the company has stood the test of time partly thanks to forward thinking and aggressive problem-solving skills. For instance, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, like many furniture companies it has had trouble getting its usual shipments of foam. Instead of letting orders pile up and laying off workers, Fairfield started ordering bulk quantities of filler material and cutting them within the warehouse, he said.


Graybeal said the idea that Fairfield is a family might be the other half of the equation for its success.


John Thomson, who works in the IT department, agreed.


“In the 14 years I have been at Fairfield, I have been a part of two major changes. In 2008, furniture was hit hard. We changed gears and flipped from retail to senior living and contracted overnight to keep our people working and never looked back. Then in 2020 we converted to doing PPE gowns and masks,” he said. “Always looking for ways to keep our Fairfield family working.”


The CEO of Fairfield, Dixon Mitchell, said the company’s family mentality goes beyond the factory doors and into the community, often helping various Caldwell County charities and school systems.


“The Beall family has always been so supportive of the community. Their homestead was built in 1825 so they were really a founding force in the community, making them good stewards in understanding the value of taking care of our people.” Dixon said.


Thomson’s fondest time with the company illustrates this notion.


“For the last 14 years Fairfield has allowed my wife, also a 20-year Fairfield employee, and I to raise money to buy gifts for Valmead and West Lenoir (elementary school students). I dress as Santa and deliver a gift to each child,” he said.


Retired plant manager Dennis Bell said community work was always part of the company’s focus during the 51 years he worked there.


“I feel Fairfield Chair has always been interested in being a help to Caldwell County. They have partnered with local schools and other charities. Our employees have always been willing to give and serve the community,” he said.


Reporter Candice Simmons can be reached at (828)610-8721

8-18-2021 – CCC&TI receives state grant for student aid

Posted on: August 18th, 2021 by admin


August 18, 2021



By Carmen Boone

Aug 18, 2021 Updated Aug 18, 2021


A new scholarship program aims to encourage people who have interrupted their college education to go back to school.


The Longleaf Complete Grant is part of the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) fund that allocated $137.8 million to community colleges in North Carolina for COVID-19 relief.


With the hardships that many students faced during the pandemic, a number of students dropped out of college plans due to financial struggles, said CCC&TI President Mark Poarch.


“This (grant) is an incentive to re-engage individuals in higher education,” he said. “It’s to get folks re-enrolled to move them toward completion and put them out into the workforce.”


To be eligible, students must be North Carolina residents and have completed at least 30 credit hours but not yet have a degree.


The state’s community colleges will have from fall of 2021 to Sept. 30, 2023, to award the funds.


Poarch said that 140 CCC&TI students who were enrolled in the spring of 2020 and had completed 30 credit hours dropped out.


“We are trying to benefit students negatively impacted (by the pandemic),” he said. “This (grant) is a tool to help remove financial barriers and re-engage students.”


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



8-17-2021 – CCC&TI nursing program ranks seventh in state

Posted on: August 17th, 2021 by admin


August 17, 2021



By Carmen Boone

Aug 16, 2021


Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute’s licensed practical nursing program is ranked seventh in the state, according to a nursing website., which provides resources for students studying nursing, ranks CCC&TI’s LPN program as seventh out of a total of 39 in the state, including at four-year universities.


Rankings are determined by a weighted scoring system that combines pass/fail rates, the number of students who graduate and how long the program has been around, said April Cline, the director of nursing programs at CCC&TI.


She said the data used is from the past five years. The college has only had the LPN program available for two years, but the two graduating classes both had 100% pass rates, Cline said.


Practical nursing is a one-year course that runs from January to December. The course first was offered in 2019, Cline said. The graduating class that year had eight students. In 2020, the graduating class had 18 students. All of the students (from both classes) were offered jobs before graduating, Cline added.


“To get number seven after just two graduating classes is something to be proud of,” she said.


Cline said that the North Carolina Board of Nursing is allowing CCC&TI to offer 40 seats to students for the licensed practical nursing program across both the Caldwell and Watauga campuses in 2022.


“We hope to grow the program,” she said. “(The goal is) just letting more people know.”


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


8-11-2021 – College adds top-level machine training

Posted on: August 11th, 2021 by admin


August 11, 2021




Aug 10, 2021


Business leaders’ conversations about the Caldwell County workforce used to include worries about the skills the local workforce had to offer, but the new facility that Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute will use to train people in advanced manufacturing has bridged those gaps, a top local economic development official said.


Members of the Caldwell County Economic Development Commission’s board of directors toured the new Paul H. Broyhill Center for Advanced Technologies on Tuesday. Deborah Murray, the executive director of the EDC, told them it is equipped with state-of-the-art computers, a vast array of machinery and a faculty that’s eager and excited about their new space. The classes at the facility will focus on a variety of careers, including machine operation, robotics, electrical engineering and mechanical engineering.


“The same types of technology you find at Silicon Valley is right here in Caldwell,” she said.


Murray says the companies she aims to recruit to the county are more interested in the county’s ability to provide a trained workforce than its overall population numbers.


“This is how we prove that we can train employees and they don’t need to import employees,” she said.


Murray said the site of the building on the county’s busiest road, U.S. 321, is a statement in itself.


“People will see it, get curious and be inspired as they drive by,” she said.


In addition to the benefit to companies looking for a well trained workforce, the center is also a resource to anyone in the community without an advanced degree who wants a path to a good-paying job, Murray said. While program lengths vary, there are many options in machine operation and engineering.


Janet Aiken of Aiken Controls and Richard Boyd of Automated Solutions said their companies incorporate several machines that the Center for Advanced technology now has available for training, and said the center will be a valuable asset for them.


Susan Deal, the college’s director of mechanical engineering technology, said classes will begin Aug. 18.


Reporter Candice Simmons can be reached at (828)610-8721

8-5-2021 – Money OKed for first step in widening U.S. 321

Posted on: August 5th, 2021 by admin


August 5, 2021



By News-Topic Staff

Aug 4, 2021


A state body has approved issuing bonds to cover initial costs in nine major N.C. Department of Transportation projects, including widening a portion of U.S. 321 from Hickory to Granite Falls.


Following Council of State approval in the morning, the Local Government Commission granted the state’s request for up to $300 million in Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle Bonds for the NCDOT projects. The revenue bonds are issued with a pledge to be paid off later when the state receives Federal Highway Fund reimbursements, which helps to speed up projects. NCDOT officials expect to close on the bond bids in early September.


The U.S. 321 project, which would widen the highway to six lanes from U.S. 70 in Hickory to U.S. 321-A in Granite Falls. Right-of-way purchases are underway.


It would be the first phase of a larger project to widen U.S. 321 all the way to Lenoir, and the estimated cost of the estimated cost of the first phase is $290 million.


Construction once had been planned to begin in 2021 but now is estimated to begin in 2025, according to the State Transportation Improvement Plan.


The Local Government Commission helps North Carolina government units at all levels secure low-cost, tax-free financing. It also examines whether the amount of money units borrow is adequate and reasonable for proposed projects, and confirms the governmental units can reasonably afford to repay the debt.


This will be the eighth issuance of GARVEE bonds since 2007 and will bring the total outstanding principal to $1.17 billion.

8-3-2021 – Furniture orders keep outpacing shipping

Posted on: August 3rd, 2021 by admin


August 3, 2021



By Guy Lucas

Aug 2, 2021


The long list of problems confronting furniture manufacturers could lead a person to think the industry’s recent good fortunes might be waning.


But there is no sign of slowing in the growth of new orders, according to the latest Furniture Insights report from consulting and accounting firm Smith Leonard.


Orders for the first five months of 2021 were up 67% from the same period last year, though the COVID-19-related shutdowns of March and April 2020 stunted orders last year, but also were up 36% from the same period in 2019, the report said.


“These results show that business really has continued to be positive,” the report said.


But myriad problems continue bedeviling the industry and preventing manufacturers from fulfilling all of those new orders in a timely way.


“There have been continued issues with lack of labor and acquiring raw materials, primarily foam for upholstery, as well as … (wood, plywood, metal and some fabrics). Also, issues with imports due to labor and other problems in countries where factories are not back up and running are keeping companies from being able to get backlogs down,” the report said. “Adding to those are problems with freight, whether it be lack of containers, port delays, or even trucking issues in the states.”


COVID-19 continues causing shutdowns in other countries, many with much lower vaccination rates than the U.S., contributing to problems for importers. The report mentions the closure of several furniture factories in Vietnam.


New orders keep coming in faster than manufacturers can fill them, so backlogs in May had grown to 214%, more than triple, what they were in May 2020.


But the report notes that surveys of consumer confidence in the economy find it remains high, and consumers continue to say they expect to make major purchases, include housing, vehicles and major appliances.


“Thus, consumer spending should continue to support robust economic growth in the second half of 2021,” the report said.

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