Archive for May, 2020

5-29-2020 – Caldwell County COVID-19 Job Losses

Posted on: May 29th, 2020 by admin


May 29, 2020



By Guy Lucas

May 28, 2020 5:51 PM


Business closures and restrictions related to COVID-19 drove more than 6,800 Caldwell County residents to file for unemployment benefits, and the hardest hit were workers in manufacturing, according to a new state report.


A total of 2,532 filed initial unemployment claims related to COVID-19 in March, and another 4,282 filed in April, the N.C. Department of Commerce reported.


Gov. Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency on March 10 due to COVID-19 and since then has issued several orders closing or curtailing businesses in hopes of slowing the spread of the coronavirus that causes it.


Statewide in April, the Commerce Department’s Division of Employment Security received 494,728 initial claims for unemployment benefits, with 395,794 of these claims – or 80 percent – citing the coronavirus pandemic as the reason for the job loss, according to a department press release. In March, 282,947 of 339,885 initial claims, 83 percent, cited COVID-19.


The state is not scheduled to report county-by-county unemployment rates until the middle of next week, and it is difficult to know what Thursday’s report might indicate about those rates. Special provisions by the state and federal governments extended unemployment benefits to many categories of workers who would not normally be eligible, including workers who were still employed but whose hours had been reduced. Also, some employers laid off workers for a few weeks, then brought some or all back.


In February, the last full month before COVID-19 began affecting the state’s economy, an estimated 1,325 Caldwell County residents were unemployed, and the county’s unemployment rate was 3.6 percent.


Deborah Murray, the executive director of the Caldwell County Economic Development Commission, said she will have to talk to a lot of employers in various industries before she can figure out how to read the new numbers.


“It is really overwhelming. It is difficult to assess which ones are returning to work this week or shortly with the easing of restrictions versus the ones that permanently lost jobs,” she said. “I suppose those numbers will be fleshed out over the coming months.”


She said the EDC continues to publicize the large number of jobs that local employers have available, despite the economic slowdown.


“Regardless, one thing is for sure — we have our work cut out for us. We will be studying these statistics to best understand positive next steps as quickly as possible,” she said.


More than 85 percent of the initial unemployment claims filed in Caldwell County in both March and April were attributed to COVID-19.


Hardest hit locally was the manufacturing sector, which accounted for 36.9 percent of the new unemployment claims in March and 42.5 percent in April.


That contrasts with how the state overall was affected: Leisure and hospitality jobs were hurt the most, accounting for 29 percent of all initial claims in March and 15.2 percent in April, while manufacturing accounted for just 10.1 percent in March and 12.4 percent in April.


Because of that contrast, mature workers in Caldwell County were far more affected because workers in manufacturing tend to be older and higher-paid on average than in leisure and hospitality.


Workers in the 45 to 54 age group accounted for just under 24 percent of the initial filings for the two months in Caldwell County.


Statewide, however, young workers 25 to 34 accounted for the greatest percentage of filings – 28.8 percent in March and 24.2 percent in April.

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.

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