Archive for the ‘News section’ Category

5-14-2021 – Housing market in Caldwell heats up

Posted on: May 14th, 2021 by admin


May 12, 2021



By Guy Lucas

May 13, 2021


The residential construction market ramped up last year to a level not seen in over a dozen years, and it appears to be continuing into 2021.


Builders in Caldwell County applied for permits for construction valued at a total of nearly $70 million in 2020, by far the highest value since the 2008 recession, according to figures presented this week to the Caldwell County Economic Development Commission’s board of directors.


So far, 2021 is continuing on that pace, with permits totaling more than $20 million in the first four months of the year, noted Deborah Murray, the executive director of the EDC.


The high water mark for residential building permits previously was 2007, with a total value of just under $60 million.


“Now we’re getting back to that,” Murray said, and at the current pace 2021’s permits could top 2020’s total value.


After the 2008 recession, residential construction in the county plummeted, and permits hit a low of under $20 million in 2011. Since then they had gradually rebounded to more than $50 million in 2019.


The surge in building should help Caldwell County employers recruit people to move here for hard-to-fill jobs, Murray said. Employers have often said in recent years that they had lost some potential workers because they couldn’t find housing here that they wanted.


It also has implications for attracting more diverse retailers because more new housing means a larger and still growing population, which makes the area more attractive to retailers, she said.


The Catawba Valley Association of Realtors and Canopy MLS, which collects information on listings, contracts and sales, have been saying for months that the supply of housing in Caldwell County — as in the Hickory region overall — falls far short of the demand, which has driven sales prices up sharply over the past year.


Data from Canopy MLS shows that the median sales price of a house in Caldwell County in March, the most recent data available, was almost $189,000, up nearly 22% from March 2020.


Sellers in the first three months of 2021 also got on average 97.3% of their asking price for their houses, a high percentage indicating the market is tight, Canopy said in a press release.


“Low supply creates a highly favorable market for sellers, as indicated by the original list price to sales price ratio … , showing sellers are getting most of their asking prices,” the press release said.

5-12-2021 – Google getting new face in Lenoir

Posted on: May 12th, 2021 by admin


May 12, 2021



By Guy Lucas

May 11, 2021


The man who had been the public face of Google in Lenoir for almost three years has transferred to a job out of state.


Jorge Gutierrez became site operations manager in June 2018, and his last day at work in Lenoir was Friday, according to conversation Tuesday among members of the Caldwell County Economic Development Commission’s board of directors.


Google, which is based in California, did not answer requests before the News-Topic’s deadline Tuesday for information about Gutierrez’s successor.


EDC board members had words of high praise for Gutierrez’s contributions to Caldwell County’s economic development efforts. He served as the board’s treasurer and also was a member of the EDC’s executive committee.


As site operations manager, Gutierrez was perhaps the most visible of Google’s local employees, representing Google at events and coordinating its work with local organizations, including the EDC, Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute, and the Caldwell County Schools.


Gutierrez was just the second site operations manager the Lenoir data center has had. He succeeded Enoch Moeller, who came to Lenoir shortly before the data center opened in 2008.


Gutierrez worked at the Lenoir data center for more than three years as a hardware operations manager before replacing Moeller.

5-12-2021 – Solar housing coming to Granite Falls

Posted on: May 12th, 2021 by admin


May 12, 2021



By Guy Lucas

May 11, 2021


A small housing development planned near downtown Granite Falls will be the first in Caldwell County incorporating renewable energy sources intended to virtually wipe out homeowners’ electric bills.


The Duke Street Cottages, on Duke Street across from Granite Falls Brewing, is intended to be a “net zero energy” project, Rob Howard of Howard Building Science Inc. told the Caldwell County Economic Development Commission’s board of directors on Tuesday.


Net zero energy means the total energy the 11 houses in the 1-acre development use in a year will be about equal to the amount of renewable energy generated on-site.


The neighborhood will have 212 solar panels, and energy will be stored in batteries, Howard said.


“The idea is if the grid goes down due to a storm or a squirrel, these homes will still have power,” he said.


Howard said he has worked on net zero energy projects before, starting in 2005, when he built the first net zero house in North Carolina for Habitat for Humanity.


The development is planned as a “pocket neighborhood,” which means they will have large front porches facing a shared greenspace down the middle, and a property owners association will manage landscaping and exterior maintenance, Howard said.


The neighborhood also will include charging stations for electric cars.


Howard said he intends to target middle-class buyers with annual incomes of $48,000 to $72,000 a year. The houses will cost from around $150,000 for a 2-bedroom unit of about 800 square feet to around $235,000 for a larger 3-bedroom.


Work on the development should begin next month, but Howard said he intends to list the houses for pre-sale as soon as next week.


Howard, a Caldwell County native who grew up in Hudson and lives in Granite Falls, said he hopes do work on more housing projects like this in Caldwell County.


“I see this as the first of many. This is what I want to do in the next phase of my career,” he said.

5-12-2021 – Workers are in high demand

Posted on: May 12th, 2021 by admin


May 12, 2021



By Guy Lucas

May 11, 2021


People who have been reluctant to return to the workforce, no matter the reason, may not realize how much opportunity they are missing now, a local economic development official said.


All kinds of businesses are desperately seeking workers, and that has shifted conditions in favor of workers in terms of pay, benefits and future prospects, said Deborah Murray, the executive director of the Caldwell County Economic Development Commission.


“One employer told us last week, … ‘I could double the size of my business if I could find more workers,’ ” she said.


An EDC survey of local employers found that many have increased starting wages and benefits, are offering earlier raises and promotions or other incentives, and allow more flexibility in workers’ schedules, she told the EDC’s board of directors on Tuesday. Employers are also more likely to try to improve workplace conditions, she said, citing one who added free Wi-Fi to employee break rooms.


“Without question, our employers have looked at their wages and are increasing them, not just thinking about it,” she said. “Employers are very serious about attracting the best talent they can, about growing and retaining the best employees.”


Employers nationwide in a variety of industries have reported difficulty finding employees even though the economy has still not regained all of the jobs lost during the pandemic-related shutdowns in early 2020.


Although some blame continued federal enhancement of unemployment benefits, saying it gives people as much or more money as a job would, surveys also have shown some workers have remained out because of a lack of child care or fear of COVID-19, among other reasons. Paul Krugman of the New York Times cited data last week showing that thousands of jobs paying more than $35 an hour are going unfilled, and unemployment benefits can’t come close to matching that.


Regardless of any individual’s reason for sitting out of the workforce, that person needs to consider the opportunities for advancement that could be lost by continuing to sit out until after the current high demand for employees has ebbed, Murray said.


Ric Smith, the manager of the NCWorks Caldwell Career Center, which helps connect the unemployed with employers, said he has had discussions along those lines with some who are out of work. The job market is hot now, but it may not look the same in six months or a year, he said.

5-11-2021 – New assisted living, memory care facility to fill demand

Posted on: May 11th, 2021 by admin


May 11, 2021



Virginia Annable

May 11, 2021 Updated 1 hr ago


An $8-million, 78-bed assisted living and memory care center in Granite Falls is nearing its opening. It is the first care center built in Caldwell County in over two decades, according to the developer.


The newly constructed Grace Village Senior Living on River Bend Drive, behind Walmart in Granite Falls, is nestled behind a hill and surrounded by trees. Its freshly painted white columns, stone walls and peaked roof stand out amid lush green surroundings.


The facility has three wings — two assisted living sections with 46 beds and a memory care wing with 32 beds, Grace Village Executive Director Lyn Mikeal said.


Construction began on the building in November 2019 and was completed in April. The center is expected to open in June, Mikeal said.


Mikeal and the four partners who developed and own the facility — Hamilton Ward, Jim Martin, Brett Waters and Rodney Worley — pride themselves on the center’s amenities. Not only is the center filling a need in the community, but it goes above and beyond, Mikeal said.


The facility has an on-site physical therapy room, where patients will be able to recover from falls and surgeries or get everyday therapy, like sitting and standing. Large windows into the room allow family to watch their loved ones recover, Martin said.


“This is not something you see everywhere,” he said. “Most places do not have a dedicated, physical therapy space. Usually they’ll do it in the hall or in their rooms.”


The dedicated space also means if residents experience a trauma, they come from the hospital back to the assisted living facility and do physical therapy there, rather than stay in a separate therapy facility.


Near the center of the building, a communal area will serve up happy hour drinks and allow for socialization between residents. Down the hall, a large TV and chairs will host movie nights. Courtyards filled with lush green grass offer fresh air. A salon room will house a hairstylist for hair appointments for residents and a spa will be a welcome space to relax, Mikeal said.


Construction of the facility took about a year and a half, and the COVID-19 pandemic brought revisions during the process, Martin said. Some changes were made to make the building divisible in the case of a spike in COVID-19 cases or a future pandemic.


The owners expect demand for rooms at the facility to be high, Martin said. Memory care is limited in the area, he said. He also believes the COVID-19 pandemic has created pent-up demand.


“The events of the last 14 months have changed things,” he said. “Some people have taken care of their aging parents all year at home, and now it’s time to find them a facility.”


The demand for the services is great all over the area, Hamilton said. The partners chose southern Caldwell County to be accessible for multiple surrounding counties, including Catawba County, he said.


The available rooms range from large, two-room apartment style rooms to shared rooms for two people.


Eventually, the developers plan to build senior independent apartments on part of the additional 50 acres on the property, Hamilton said. Construction of those is expected to start in 2023, Martin said.


For more information visit

5-10-2021 – Local men among state’s business leaders

Posted on: May 10th, 2021 by admin


May 10, 2021



By Guy Lucas

May 10, 2021


Two people from Caldwell County are among the more than 200 people that a statewide business magazine lists as the state’s most influential leaders.


Alex Bernhardt Jr. of Bernhardt Furniture and Phanesh Koneru of Exela Pharma Sciences are included in Business North Carolina magazine’s “Power List 2021.”


The list is divided into 18 economic sectors. Bernhardt, the fourth generation of the Bernhardt family to run the company, which was formed in 1889, is among 38 people listed in manufacturing. Koneru, who founded his pharmaceutical manufacturing company in 2005, is among 26 listed in life sciences.


The magazine said that in previous years it limited it’s “Power List” to 100 people, “but we concluded that expanding that number would give a better overview of the people who tend to have the most influence in our state.”


The magazine solicited nominations for the list but also conducted its own interviews and research to determine the final list.


5-5-2021 – CCC&TI lauded for work during pandemic

Posted on: May 5th, 2021 by admin


May 5, 2021



By Guy Lucas

May 4, 2021 Updated 18 hrs ago


Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute is one of four North Carolina community colleges being held up as models for how they navigated the COVID-19 pandemic and kept students enrolled in classes.


The four were the only community colleges in the state that did not see significant drops in enrollment as colleges shifted to online-only or hybrid models of teaching. Overall, enrollment in the state’s community colleges dropped 11% from the fall 2019 semester to the fall 2020 semester.


An article for Education NC, an education advocacy group, reports that several common themes in the efforts of the four colleges — the others are Isothermal Community College in Rutherford County, Davidson-Davie Community College, and James Sprunt Community College in Duplin County — may have helped students stay in school:


Students and faculty alike don’t like online classes. CCC&TI President Mark Poarch told EducationNC that the college conducted focus groups and student surveys and found a clear preference for in-person classes, so the college tried to get back to that as soon as it could be done.


Greater efforts to communicate with students. Edward Terry, CCC&TI’s executive director of community relations, is quoted in the article about the college using multiple channels — email, the college’s website, social media sites — to deliver the same information in as many places as possible to be sure it’s seen.


Making support services more easily available when students can’t come to campus. For instance, CCC&TI began offering students the ability to sign financial aid documents online.


And a little bit of luck. CCC&TI was lucky in a couple of ways: In 2019 it had created the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, a support system for professional development, which aided faculty members in the shift to online teaching; and before the pandemic struck the college had undertaken some recent technology initiatives that would prove key, including the distribution of 125 Chromebooks to students and working with Google to enable some classes to be taught via videoconference.

5-3-2021 – Furniture order gains continue

Posted on: May 4th, 2021 by admin


May 3, 2021



By Guy Lucas

Apr 30, 2021 Updated Apr 30, 2021


Furniture companies finally managed to make a significant increase in February in shipping product to satisfy orders — but it still lagged behind robust growth in orders, so the industry’s staggering backlog of orders kept growing, a new report said.


Shipments in February were 18% higher than they were a year ago, and four-fifths of all companies responding to a survey had increased shipments, according to the latest Furniture Insights report from the Smith Leonard accounting and consulting firm, based in High Point.


But new orders were up 34% from a year earlier, so backlogs were 5% higher than they were a month earlier and 184% higher than they were in February 2020, the report said.


“Who would have thought that we would ever complain that backlogs could be too high, but in many cases, there is fear that orders may start being cancelled,” the report said. “The one thing that is probably helping with customer patience is that the same thing is happening with many other products, such as appliances, glass and other household products.”


February was the ninth consecutive month the industry saw double-digit increases in orders from the previous year’s level.


And while surging consumer confidence — a University of Michigan survey found half of all consumers, the highest level ever recorded, expect further declines in unemployment, and most express greater confidence in their future job and income prospects — probably means a continuing high level of orders, February is the last month that a direct comparison with the previous year will be meaningful for a while because March 2020 was the beginning of COVID-19-related business shutdowns, the report said.


Furniture orders crashed when the shutdowns happened but rebounded strongly by June and have not let up.


“It will likely be June or later before we start seeing meaningful comparisons, and even then, the surge in orders that we have seen since June will probably make even more difficult comparisons,” the report said.


Across the industry, problems with supply chains, escalating supply costs and labor shortages continue.


“We have had several conversations with industry executives that almost always end up with frustrations of how good business is in terms of orders coming and yet how difficult it is to either not be able to get foam or workers, or deal with significant price increases when prices were quoted before the material cost increases came into effect. Or orders are great but cannot get product out of Asia. Or the cost of containers, if you can get them, have quadrupled or more,” the report said. “It seems that no one would have thought that, for once, business in the furniture industry could be this good with consumer demand this high, yet so many problems have developed to make it hard to appreciate how good business is.”


Despite the problems, though, optimism heading toward the spring High Point Market in June appears to be high, it said.


“All we hear from Premarket (which was April 25-27) is that business is brisk with attitudes very good. There appear to be lots of people here in High Point with lots of excitement over product,” the report said.


4-29-2021 – Local jobless rate drops again

Posted on: April 29th, 2021 by admin


April 29, 2021



By Guy Lucas

Apr 28, 2021 Updated 12 hrs ago


Caldwell County’s local unemployment rate dropped for the third consecutive month in March, the longest period it has dropped since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020.


The decline of 1 percentage point from February’s 5.8% — which was revised down from the 5.9% reported last month — also was the largest monthly decline since August, when the rate declined by 2.3 percentage points, the N.C. Labor and Economic Analysis Division reported.


The 4.8% rate is the lowest it has been since last spring’s business shutdowns caused it to spike from 4.2% in March 2020 to 16.1% in April 2020.


Unlike the previous two months, however, March’s decline in Caldwell County was mainly attributable to almost 400 people dropping out of the labor market rather than to job gains. The number of county residents reporting having jobs rose just slightly.


The situation was similar in neighboring Burke and Catawba counties, where the local unemployment rate dropped 0.9 percentage points, to 4.4% for Burke and 4.5% for Catawba.


The picture varied across the state, with the labor force dropping by nearly 12,000 overall to just under 5 million people and the total number of people with jobs rising by more than 40,000 people. All 100 counties in the state saw the local unemployment rate drop, but like Caldwell and its neighbors, not all had significant gains in jobs.


Some parts of the state — the Asheville, Charlotte, Greensboro, Winston-Salem, Fayetteville, Raleigh, Durham and Wilmington metropolitan statistical areas — saw large job growth in the leisure and hospitality industry, which coincided with a loosening of the state’s COVID-19-related restrictions on such businesses as restaurants, bars and movie theaters. Statewide, that industry experienced the largest job losses from pandemic-related business restrictions that began in the spring of 2020.


4-26-2021 – Assisted living facility to open in Granite Falls

Posted on: April 26th, 2021 by admin


April 26, 2021



By Kara Fohner

Apr 23, 2021


A new assisted living and memory care facility will soon open in Granite Falls.


Grace Village Assisted Living and Memory Care on River Bend Drive near the Granite Falls Wal-Mart is a 60,000-square-foot facility that will include both an assisted living facility and a separate, secure memory care facility, Grace Village Executive Director Lyn Mikeal said.


The facility will begin accepting residents in late May.


The assisted living section will have 46 beds and will include suites as large as 800 square feet where people can live with relative independence and ease, Mikeal said. Every room has a spacious private bathroom, and some suites have kitchenettes.


“Pretty much whatever you’re looking at, size-wise, we’ve got it,” Mikeal said.


The assisted living facility will include a room for activities and cinema where residents can play games and watch movies, an expansive formal dining room, a bar and cafe, and an outdoor walking area.


The bar and cafe are especially notable because many facilities “don’t offer that type of freedom for the residents,” Mikeal said.


There also will be an area where residents can do their own laundry if they want to.


The 32-bed memory care facility is designed with locked doors in order to protect residents, who have Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia.


Every room will have a shadow box containing items that will be familiar to the resident who is housed there, said Jim Martin, one of Grace Village’s co-owners.


Memory care residents also will have access to an outdoor walking area and a screened-in porch, and they will be able to leave the unit with one-on-one supervision, Mikeal said.


The memory care unit will have a staff member who will coordinate activities, “keeping them busy, keeping them active, things to do,” she said.


The memory care facility is designed so that residents can easily walk around without getting lost.


Patients in the memory care facility also may access the cafe with supervision.


All residents from both sections of the facility will have access to a large therapy room with in-house physical, occupational and speech therapists.


The therapy room will be especially helpful for residents who might have physical limitations or injuries because they can receive care from the therapists without leaving Grace Village, Mikeal said.


There will also be at least six areas where residents can hold special events such as birthday parties, Mikeal said.


“You know, when you move in, this becomes your home,” she said. “And what would you do at home if it was your birthday? You’d have a party. … We want it to be that way so that they feel like they can continue to do the things they would do at home.”


Grace Village also will have a full-time registered nurse. All residents also will have access to a spa, Mikeal said.


Grace Village is the first new assisted living facility built in Caldwell County in more than 25 years, said Hamilton Ward, another co-owner.


“And so we really think there’s a need, especially for the memory care,” he said.


The facility is the first part of a larger plan to build a retirement community on the Grace Village campus that will include 100 independent-living apartments, Mikeal said.


“And then maybe down the road, some patio homes, but that’s phase three. We don’t have a starting point for that,” she said. “But I think 2023 for those independent-living apartments, which we need here too.”


For more information, go to


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

©2011-2014 Economic Development Commission of Caldwell County • Site Mapinfo@caldwelledc.orgWebsite by Market Force