Archive for the ‘News section’ Category

5-20-2020 – Big jobs at stake in potential expansion

Posted on: May 20th, 2020 by admin


May 20, 2020



May 19, 2020 6:35 PM


County officials hope that an incentives package will convince a company with local operations to go ahead with a five-year, $120 million expansion project there that could add more than 100 high-paying jobs and keep 120 more from leaving.


The expansion of the company, which was publicly identified only by the label Project Jorgai, would be second only to the Google expansion in its size and impact, said Deborah Murray, the executive director of the Caldwell County Economic Development Commission.


“This is one of the largest projects that we’ve ever done,” Murray said. “There are two states competing with us for this project, and they are states that are well known for their aggressive campaigns to recruit.”


Murray said she isn’t worried that the company will leave Caldwell County altogether, but some of its local jobs would move if one of the other sites is chosen for the expansion.


“It will create 111 new jobs, and those jobs pay almost 30 percent more than our average private-sector wage” of approximately $40,000 per year, she said. “And if we lose it, they will cut 120 jobs that will be moved to the new facility.”


The Caldwell County Board of Commissioners approved offering the company a 10-year property tax grant, which for 10 years would return to the company 75 percent of the taxes assessed on the new property value created by the investment in the expansion.


The board also offered job-creation incentives of $2,000 for each job created up to 111 jobs as well as for each job retained up to 120, for a total of $462,000.


Murray said the company was not publicly identified because competitive state grants call for confidentiality until a final decision is made.


Board chairman Randy Church said that the project would be a massive windfall for Caldwell County and that he hopes state leaders will continue to support the county’s bid.


In other business, the commissioners were told that Caldwell County will receive nearly $1.6 million through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security

(CARES) Act, which can be used only for expenses directly related to the fight against COVID-19 between March 27 and the end of 2020.


Emergency Services Director Dino DiBernardi said that the county could get the money within as little as nine days, but that the county needs to submit a plan by June 1 for how to use it. He requested that part of the funds be used to hire a contract employee to oversee grant applications related to the coronavirus, as advised by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.


“Being realistic, we’re unfortunately looking at a long-term pandemic,” he said. “But this funding will tremendously impact our ability to respond to and prevent the future spread of (the coronavirus).”


Reporter Garrett Stell can be reached at 828-610-8723.

5-14-2020 – Company takes over old Broyhill building

Posted on: May 14th, 2020 by admin


May 14, 2020



By Garrett Stell

May 13, 2020 4:47 PM


A bedding manufacturer that has distribution operations in multiple warehouses in Lenoir has purchased another major warehouse in the city and says it plans to add jobs there.


Malouf Fine Linens, a Utah-based linen manufacturing and distribution company that focuses on bedding, purchased the 500,000-square-foot former Broyhill Furniture Miller Hill Complex warehouse near the intersection of Southwest Boulevard and Morganton Boulevard in Lenoir for $9 million, according to property transfer records from the Caldwell County Register of Deeds.


The property has a tax-assessed value of $3.9 million, according to county property records.


Malouf purchased home furnishing company Salt Flat at the end of April, and Malouf’s added distribution space in Lenoir will house that inventory as well as future products as Malouf continues to expand its offering, a company press release said.


Salt Flat furniture will soon be available for shipping to all U.S. regions, CEO Sam Malouf said in the release.


“When we acquired Salt Flat, we knew we needed more space to accommodate the products, and this new property fits perfectly within our existing logistical footprint,” he said.


Ryan Egbert, national director of distribution for Malouf, said in the release that he expects the expansion to lead to new jobs in the Lenoir area.


“Lenoir has a rich history in the home furnishings industry, and we’re excited to keep contributing to the communities that have built this incredible legacy,” Egbert said.


Malouf is currently conducting maintenance to bring the building to company standards and plans to begin distributing out of the facility in the fall.


The newest purchase gives Malouf 965,936 square feet of warehouse space in Lenoir, approximately one-quarter of the company’s 4 million square feet of distribution space nationwide. It’s other distribution centers are in Texas, Ohio and Utah.


Malouf already owned multiple warehouse properties around Lenoir – including the former Avery Denison building off Cooperative Way and two properties totaling over 300,000 square feet inside the Lenoir Industrial Complex. Those properties are used as warehouses for distribution and office spaces.


The Miller Hill warehouse was the subject of a protracted court dispute between its previous owner, Miller Hill Lenoir LLC, and Heritage Home Group. Miller Hill Lenoir maintained that Heritage Home Group, which filed for bankruptcy protection in 2018, owed a large amount of unpaid rent, including for use extending long past the date of the bankruptcy filing.

5-13-2020 – Caldwell UNC CEO COVID-19 Update to EDC board

Posted on: May 13th, 2020 by admin


May 13, 2020



By Guy Lucas

May 12, 2020 10:55 AM


Social distancing measures have prevented the health system in Caldwell County from being overwhelmed, but the number of county residents who are severely ill with COVID-19 is projected to increase notably in the coming weeks, the leader of Caldwell UNC Health Care said.


A total of four county residents so far have been sick enough to require hospitalization, and two remain in critical condition – one at a hospital in Winston-Salem and one in the intensive care unit at Caldwell Memorial Hospital, Caldwell UNC President Laura Easton told the Caldwell County Economic Development Commission’s board of directors on Tuesday.


But current projections indicate the number of people requiring hospitalization will increase, both statewide and locally, and by the third week of July the hospital may have 22 COVID-19 patients, with six to eight of them in critical condition, Easton said.


However, she considers that good news compared to what projections showed earlier this year, before Gov. Roy Cooper’s emergency orders and related social distancing measures sharply reduced people’s movements and interactions.


“We can meet that capacity,” Easton said, adding that the hospital has 12 beds in the ICU and has 14 ventilators. “The original projections were overwhelming.”


Caldwell UNC officials had made plans to convert non-hospital buildings into medical facilities for severely ill COVID-19 patients, she said.


Caldwell UNC is well positioned to treat patients, in part because of access through the UNC Health system to advanced research, Easton said. Among treatments available is a Mayo Clinic trial making blood from people who have recovered from COVID-19 available for transfusion, which researchers hope will help a patient recover more quickly.


Easton cautioned that as Cooper has eased restrictions on business, it remains vital for people to continue social distancing precautions. She cited a number of localized COVID-19 outbreaks – including at Tyson Foods in Wilkesboro, which she said helped fuel a surge of people coming to Caldwell UNC’s diagnostic clinic late last week for testing. She said 50 people came to the clinic on Friday, which was reminiscent of how many people were being tested weeks ago.


If people don’t continue social distancing, more such outbreaks are possible.


“You can go from zero to 100 pretty quickly,” she said.


About one-third of the people testing positive for COVID-19 have no symptoms, and while those who get seriously ill are a minority, “those who get sick get really sick,” Easton said. “That’s what makes it so tricky.”


The need for precautions – limiting indoor meetings to fewer than 10 people, wearing masks, washing hands frequently, working from home as much as possible – is not likely to end any time soon, she said.


“I can’t imagine it won’t be with us for a year,” she said.


Because of the ongoing threat of COVID-19, Caldwell UNC officials have been talking with local businesses about things they need, including more testing for COVID-19 and also testing for antibodies against the disease. The presence of the antibodies indicate that the person has been infected in the past, which may indicate some level of immunity, though that has not been proven yet, she said.


On a different front, construction of Caldwell UNC Health Care’s new mental health treatment pavilion is nearing completion, and officials project it could open July 20. Because of the coronavirus, when the facility opens it will have only private rooms, Easton said.

5-8-2020 – Census efforts scaling up

Posted on: May 8th, 2020 by admin


May 8, 2020



By Garrett Stell


May 07, 2020 4:07 PM


In 2010, after seeing Hudson’s population dwindle in consecutive census reports, Town Manager Rebecca Bentley made it her mission to get an accurate count.


“I was determined that something was wrong with the way they were counting our people,” she said.


That year, the town kicked off a concerted effort to make sure that all residents knew the census was coming and that it was important that they respond. The town sent out flyers, kept a census official stationed in Town Hall and even offered assistance from the Hudson Police Department to residents who felt unsafe having someone visit their door.


In 2000, Hudson’s population was counted as 3,114. When preliminary results came back from 2010, that number had jumped to 3,783. Bentley is convinced that the jump came down to responsiveness.


“Without hardly building a house, our population increased 20 percent,” she said.


Some of the strategies that Bentley was able to deploy in 2010 aren’t possible at the moment because of COVID-19 restrictions, social distancing and the U.S. Census Bureau’s decision to suspend most in-person collection efforts. But the census response period has been extended until Oct. 31, and the bureau announced this week that ground operations and in-person follow ups are scheduled to resume in July and August.


Census Day was originally scheduled for April 1. Caldwell County’s response rate was 57 percent as of Thursday, according to statistics from the bureau’s website.


Caldwell County officials are encouraging residents respond to the census by phone, mail or online.


During the regularly scheduled times when families can pick up meals from Caldwell County Schools staff, the school system is helping get information about the census into the hands of parents. According to information from the Census Bureau, one in 10 young children was left out of the nationwide count during the 2010 census, a rate far worse than any other age group.


Because census data affects the amount of funding that states and local school systems receive for federal programs such as the National School Lunch Program, Title I grants and the Head Start program for early childhood education, making sure that parents are responding to the census and having their children counted is critical, Superintendent Dr. Don Phipps said.


The census touches almost every part of life in Caldwell County, said Deborah Murray, the executive director of the Caldwell County Economic Development Commission.


“It affects economic development, community development, quality of life,” she said. “This includes highways, transportation projects, rural electrification, business development funds, natural disaster recovery, Medicaid, supplemental nutrition programs – all of these things hit us where we live.”


Population growth is a key factor in measuring the economic viability of a region, Murray said, and having an inaccurate count can discourage new businesses – which often base investment decisions on local growth – from entering the county. It also affects political boundaries, representation and the distribution of approximately $675 billion in federal program funding, she said.


“When you think about it, nearly a third of all federal assistance is determined by the decennial census,” she said. “Factors like population, age, income and household size all impact the bottom line.”


Murray also said that local officials have noticed concerns among residents that the census may be used to track who is and is not a citizen, but there are no questions about citizenship on the census, she said.


“There’s no way for anyone to know whether or not the person filling it out is or is not a citizen,” she said. “It’s about essential services provided to everyone who lives here in our country.”


5-5-2020 – Tomlinson to head Small Business Center

Posted on: May 5th, 2020 by admin


May 5, 2020





Local entrepreneur Carmela Tomlinson has been named the new director of the Small Business Center at Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute.


Tomlinson was chosen for the role thanks in part to her experience running her own small marketing business, Paragon Design Group, and her leadership on the Caldwell Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and as a member of the Small Business Technology Development Center for Western North Carolina, the college said in a press release. She started the new job on Monday.


She replaces Ben Willis, who recently began working as director of the Education Foundation of Caldwell County.


Tomlinson, who founded Paragon 24 years ago, is a Caldwell County native and former CCC&TI student. She earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory.

CCC&TI President Dr. Mark Poarch said that Tomlinson’s local connections make her a great choice for the position as businesses struggle to navigate the COVID-19 crisis.


“Especially at a time when our local businesses can use all the help they can get, Carmela’s leadership and resourcefulness will be essential for small businesses in our area,” he said.


Tomlinson said she wants the Small Business Center to continue to provide resources, counseling and guidance to help new businesses get up and running or to help existing businesses expand.


“I’m in the boat with every other small business in the country trying to figure out how to maneuver (the pandemic),” she said. “Hopefully, I can help people find success through these times and we can find some ways to help everyone expand and grow when we get through all of this.”


Tomlinson will continue as the owner of Paragon, which has offices at the Small Business Center inside the HUB Station on Cedar Valley Road in Hudson. She said she wants to use the marketing power of her business to help promote the Small Business Center and the HUB Station and maximize the campus’s potential.

4-30-2020 – Report shows tip of economic iceberg

Posted on: April 30th, 2020 by admin


April 30, 2020



By Guy Lucas


Apr 29, 2020 1:16 PM


A new state report is the first to reflect the early economic effects of coronavirus-related business closures, but it only scratches the surface of the recession that was just beginning to unfold.


Caldwell County’s unemployment rate jumped by 0.6 of a percentage point to 4.2 percent in March, the N.C. Labor and Economic Analysis Division reported.


Next month’s report on April unemployment rates is sure to be worse, said Deborah Murray, the executive director of the Caldwell County Economic Development Commission.


“Since unemployment insurance reports are generally collected between the 12th and 15th of each month, the March report shows the drops in employment recorded only through the mid-portion of the month,” she said. “We expect subsequent reports to show increased unemployment through April and into May and perhaps further, depending on the duration of the crisis.”


Also on Wednesday the U.S. Department of Commerce said the national economy shrank at a 4.8% annual rate in the first three months of the year — the first quarterly contraction since 2014 and the largest since the Great Recession, when the economy shrank by 8.4% in the fourth quarter of 2008. The first quarter retreat was a sharp reversal from the 2.1% growth rate at the end of 2019.


The local unemployment rate increased in 97 of the state’s 100 counties – including Burke’s by 0.6 percentage point to 4.1 percent, and Catawba’s by 0.5 to 3.9 percent – in March, the month when Gov. Roy Cooper first ordered bars to close and restaurants to halt dine-in service. He did not order most businesses to close and residents to remain home as much as possible until March 30, a period that will not be covered until the April unemployment report comes out next month.


The Commerce Department said that similar stay-at-home orders across the country led to rapid changes in demand as businesses switched to remote work or closed and consumers cut or changed their spending.


Consumer spending, which accounts for about 70% of GDP, dropped at a 7.6% rate in the first quarter, the biggest decline since 1980.


More than 26 million people have filed unemployment claims in recent weeks.


Murray said that Caldwell and the region were in a good position relative to the rest of the state when the economic crisis began. The county’s March unemployment rate was tied for 33rd best in the state.


And she said some local employers continue to hire more workers.


“I am very thankful for those companies that have maintained employment and kept so many working,” she said. “I am also grateful for the unemployment funds and the stimulus funds that will help to offset the financial hardships caused by COVID-19 and felt by Caldwell families and businesses.”

4-29-2020 – Blue Bell work set for early 2021

Posted on: April 29th, 2020 by admin


April 28, 2020



By Garrett Stell

Apr 28, 2020 4:29 PM


Local leaders say a newly-approved project involving a historic building in Lenoir may be a catalyst for bringing much-needed housing options to Caldwell County.


The Lenoir Planning Board, acting in its capacity as the Lenoir Historic Preservation Committee, has awarded a certificate of appropriateness for a project to convert the Lenoir Blue Bell and Lenoir Cotton Mill properties off College Avenue into 46 market-rate residential apartments.


The property consists of three main historic pieces: the Blue Bell building, the Freight Station depot and the Steele Cotton Mill building. Representatives of Blue Bell Lenoir, the property owners, said that the first phase of construction will begin on the Blue Bell property next spring. The project will maintain the building’s white brick exterior and large windows, and it will include a fitness center, patios and yard areas for residents, and on-site parking. It is expected to take 12 months and cost $14.5 million.


Because the property was made a local historic landmark last June, the construction project must maintain the historical character of the building, Lenoir Planning Director Jenny Wheelock said.


But more importantly, she said, it marks a milestone in the effort to bring more housing options to Lenoir.


“In my opinion, we need more housing, period, so even if they weren’t going to do a historic renovation I think it would still be a positive project,” she said. “But I think it makes it that much more valuable to sort of preserve that industrial heritage in those buildings that aren’t really good for industry anymore and give them new life.”


Shannon Moser, who represented Blue Bell during the board meeting, stressed that the 46 apartments will be market-rate, meaning they will have no rent restrictions.


Wheelock said that adding a large number of market-rate apartments so close to downtown can be a boost for the city and county, since most of the recent apartment projects have been for low-income housing.


“What ends up happening is that the newest, nicest apartments in town have a cap on how much money you can make,” she said. “So when businesses recruit employees to come here, they’re not able to find rental housing.”


Increasing the availability of rentals for a wider variety of income levels has been a long but elusive goal for county economic leaders, said Deborah Murrary, executive director of the Caldwell County Economic Development Commission. She sees this new project as a torch-bearer that could show other developers it can be profitable to invest in housing in Caldwell County.


“There is such pent up demand for market-rate apartments that the first development to make it across the finish line will almost certainly enjoy fast success,” she said. “I take calls on a regular basis — even in the midst of COVID-19 — from companies urgently looking for suitable housing opportunities for new employees. … This is the bellwether project for multi-family development and should be a home run.”


Lenoir Mayor Joe Gibbons said he hopes that the new development will fill quickly, giving confidence to other developers.


“You need that first one to get going and let people see that the economy is moving that way again,” he said. “We’ve already had a lot of interest in other housing developments in our area anyway, but to get something like this off the ground will really show others that the market is here for it. I think this will be the catalyst to kick-start us into where we want to go.”

4-24-2020 – Buses bring internet to students

Posted on: April 27th, 2020 by admin


April 24, 2020



Apr 24, 2020 5:36 PM


With classes now being held via Zoom and other online platforms, students who don’t have internet access at home have been largely cut off from regular daily interactions with teachers and classmates.


But a new partnership in Caldwell County is taking the internet on the road, and school officials hope it will help bring these students and mostly rural communities back into the fold in a world made virtual because of COVID-19.


Thanks to technology from Google and support from the Education Foundation Inc. of Caldwell County, more than 30 Caldwell County school buses have been retrofitted to become rolling hotspots for internet access. These buses are now being deployed in rural areas around the county.


Ben Willis, director of the Education Foundation, said that with Gov. Roy Cooper’s decision to close schools for the rest of the year, the rollout couldn’t have come at a better time.


Each bus is equipped with a cellular hotspot that creates an internet signal that can then be amplified into the immediate surrounding area, said Scott Adams of Aerolina, the Charleston-based internet company that completed the bus upgrades.


The hotspot technology previously had been used in the Rolling Study Halls program to give kids with long bus rides internet access during their commute, but Adams said that when the COVID-19 crisis hit and schools were closed, Google contacted him about doing more.


“Google asked, ‘Can’t we just take those buses, park them somewhere and power them up and allow people to come park and sit around the buses and use the internet?’ ” he said. “So we mounted antennas on the roofs of the buses that put out a Wi-Fi signal that covers 200-300 feet around the bus.”


The buses first went out into the community Thursday and Friday, and Willis said project leaders are focused on finding the most effective sites for them to park. Adams said that the buses can use empty lots at churches, community centers or other open spaces where students can be spaced apart from one another but still close enough to get the hotspot signal.


The process isn’t perfect, Adams, said, because the internet speed will still be reliant on the strength of the cellphone service in the area, but it provides a place for internet access for students who otherwise would not have internet access at all.


Currently, public schools are operating through a combination of online lessons and take-home assignment packets, and teachers around the county have learned that many of their students don’t have either access to the internet or the right technology at home for online learning. At West Caldwell High School alone, teachers prepare and print over 140 assignment packets a week.


Randy Church, chairman of the Caldwell County Board of Commissioners, said that the new rolling hotspots will fill a need among rural residents that has been made even worse by the COVID-19 crisis.


“Social distancing guidelines have brought to light a persistent quandary for many rural communities: When schools pivot to an online experience, what are areas without broadband to do?” he said.


The buses will also serve as a resource for students enrolled at Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute, approximately 38% of whom are high school students taking classes at the college, college President Dr. Mark Poarch said.


The buses will be tracked and their positions will be posted live on the Caldwell County Schools’ website.


Willis said that he recognizes the irony of asking families to go online to find out where they can go for internet access, but as the program continues and bus locations become more stable, families will be able to expect them in certain locations on a regular basis.


Reporter Garrett Stell can be reached at 828-610-8723.

4-24-2020 – Governor sets plan to reopen businesses

Posted on: April 24th, 2020 by admin


April 18, 2020



By Paul B. Johnson
High Point Enterprise

Apr 23, 2020 8:50 PM


Gov. Roy Cooper has extended the stay-at-home and other coronavirus emergency orders until May 8.


The governor implemented the orders last month. They were set to expire April 29.


At a briefing in Raleigh on Thursday, the governor said the state is making progress on slowing the spread of COVID-19 cases but not enough to lift restrictions now. However, Cooper outlined how he envisions people in the state and region returning in stages over a period of about two months to activities such as dining at restaurants, shopping at stores and gathering in larger numbers at events and during other activities.


State schools remain under an order to remain closed through May 15. Cooper said that he would have an update on the public schools closure today.


“The health and safety of people in North Carolina must be our top priority. This plan provides a roadmap for us to begin easing restrictions in stages to push our economy forward,” the governor said.


Cooper outlined how the restrictions will be lifted in phases, such as limited opening of restaurants with reduced capacity and allowing people out for more commercial activity. The mass gathering ban will be eased incrementally to allow for activities, the governor said.


Based on the progress countering the COVID-19 spread, the governor outlined a three-phase process for easing stay-at-home and other restrictions.


Phase one:


  • Modify the stay-at-home order to allow people to leave home for commercial activity at any business that is allowed to be open, such as clothing stores, sporting goods stores, book shops, houseware stores and other retailers.
  • Ensure that any stores that open will implement social distancing, hygiene and cleaning protocols and COVID-19 symptom screening of employees.
  • Continue to limit gatherings to no more than 10 people.
  • Reopen parks that have been closed, but subject them to the same gathering limitation. Outdoor exercise will continue to be encouraged.
  • Continue to recommend face coverings in public spaces when six feet of distancing isn’t possible.
  • Encourage employers to continue teleworking policies.
  • Continue rigorous restrictions on nursing homes and other congregant care settings.


Phase two, implemented at least two to three weeks after phase one:


  • Lift stay-at-home order while encouraging vulnerable populations to continue staying at home.
  • Allow limited opening of restaurants, bars, fitness centers, personal care services and other businesses that can follow safety protocols, including possibly reducing capacity.
  • Allow gathering at places such as houses of worship and entertainment venues at reduced capacity.
  • Increase the number of people allowed at gatherings.
  • Open public playgrounds.
  • Continue rigorous restrictions on nursing homes and other congregant care settings.


Phase three, implemented at least four to six weeks after phase two:


  • Lessen restrictions for vulnerable populations while encouraging physical distancing and minimizing exposure to settings where distancing isn’t possible.
  • Allow increased capacity at restaurants, bars, other businesses, houses of worships and entertainment venues.
  • Further increase the number of people allowed at gatherings.
  • Continue rigorous restrictions on nursing homes and other congregant care settings.


If the coronavirus trends move in an ominous direction, then the state may have to return to tighter restrictions, Cooper said. And the governor said life won’t return to what was considered normal in the near future.


“We won’t go back to life like it was in January and February any time soon,” Cooper cautioned.

4-18-2020 – Grants awarded to companies promising jobs

Posted on: April 19th, 2020 by admin


April 18, 2020



By Garrett Stell

Apr 17, 2020 3:14 PM


Two Caldwell County projects that together are expected to create nearly 100 new jobs have won grants from the North Carolina Rural Infrastructure Authority.


Woodgrain Millwork in Lenoir, which makes wood moulding products, was approved for a $200,000 building reuse grant to help pay for a $500,000 expansion that could add up to 60 new full-time jobs over the next two years, and the developers of a proposed assisted living center in Granite Falls will receive a $210,000 grant toward the construction of the 57,188-square-foot, 60-bed facility.


Lenoir served as the official grant applicant for the Woodgrain Millwork expansion, which until the RIA’s announcement had been publicly identified only as Project Trilogy.


Rob Hitch, Woodgrain Millwork’s eastern regional manager, said that the grant will allow Woodgrain, which currently has about 140 employees, to continue to build upon recent growth in Lenoir.


The new jobs would pay an average of $39,750 a year, according to a document presented to the Lenoir City Council in February said.


The grant for Grace Village Assisted Living was based on the promise of at least 21 new jobs, but the assisted living center is just the first phase of what is expected to be a retirement community – plans call for independent-living apartments, a gated housing development and a nursing home – that eventually could create 200 jobs, said Deborah Murray, the executive director of the Caldwell County Economic Development Commission.


Construction began in November off Riverbend Drive behind the Walmart in Granite Falls. The assisted living center is expected to be finished by the end of 2020.


Jim Martin, senior partner with Spartan Holdings, the development group behind Grace Village, said that the grant will help expand access to senior living and health care in rural Caldwell County.


Murray said she hopes the two projects inject optimism into the community as the local economy struggles with the effects of COVID-19 precautions.

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