Archive for December, 2020

12-31-2020 – Samaritan’s Purse Joins Several NC Hospitals to Provide COVID-19 Field Hospital

Posted on: December 31st, 2020 by admin


December 31, 2020



LENOIR, NC – Samaritan’s Purse will begin the construction of a 30-bed, emergency field hospital on the grounds of Caldwell UNC Health Care in Lenoir, NC on Friday, January 1st. The unit will provide regional COVID-19 care support, assisting five health systems in western North Carolina:


  • Caldwell UNC Health Care (Lenoir)
  • Appalachian Regional Healthcare System (Boone)
  • Catawba Valley Health System (Hickory)
  • Carolinas Healthcare System Blue Ridge (Morganton)
  • Frye Regional Medical Center (Hickory)


The Caldwell UNC site was selected for this field hospital due to its central location and ability to provide support services. Patients receiving treatment at the field hospital will be limited to those who are COVID- positive but do not need the support of a ventilator.


“On behalf of all the health systems participating in this effort, I’d like to thank Samaritan’s Purse for making this investment in the well-being of our communities. Planning for this added capacity now will help us provide the level of care our communities need as volumes continue to grow in our region,” noted Laura Easton, President and CEO of Caldwell UNC Health Care.


Samaritan’s Purse has extensive experience in this type of response, having deployed field hospitals during

the COVID-19 pandemic in both New York City and Italy. The organization has agreed to construct, supply and coordinate staffing for the 30-bed field hospital and has received overwhelming interest from medical personnel across the United States who are willing to serve.


With international headquarters in Boone, NC, Samaritan’s Purse is a non-denominational evangelical Christian organization providing spiritual and physical aid to hurting people around the world. Since 1970, Samaritan’s Purse has helped meet needs of people who are victims of war, poverty, natural disasters, disease, and famine. Organizers and participating hospitals say more operational details will become available as the field hospital nears completion.

12-30-2020 – Furniture orders continue surge

Posted on: December 31st, 2020 by admin


December 30, 2020



By Guy Lucas

Dec 30, 2020 Updated 19 hrs ago


Furniture orders continue pouring in to manufacturers faster than they can be filled, a consulting firm reports.


Through October, new orders were running 14% percent over 2019’s level because of five consecutive months of significant increases, according to the latest Furniture Insights report from Smith Leonard, an accounting and consulting firm based in High Point.


“We have continued to hear strong order performance from many we have talked to recently, though we are hearing that the size of the increases has slowed,” the authors wrote.


Recent declines in consumer confidence don’t seem to be affecting furniture, the report said.


“Travel and entertainment declines are part of the reason” for the overall decline in consumer confidence, it said. “But as we have said before, the decline in these areas has put more money in consumers’ pockets, and they seem to be spending it on their homes, including furniture.”


The industry had a three-month period of significant declines when the COVID-19 pandemic began, but the rebound began in a big way in June, when orders were up 30% from June 2019, the report said. Orders in July were 39% higher than in July 2019; August was 51% higher; September was up 43%; and October’s orders were 40% higher than the same month in 2019.


Getting products out to those who ordered them continues to be the problem, the report said.


“Backlogs continued to rise as orders once again surpassed shipments. Backlogs at the end of October were 141% higher than October 2019, again causing issues at the retail level,” it said.


Two problems contributing to the backlogs are slow imports from Asia and a labor shortage in U.S. factories and warehouses, the report said.


“Shipments were up 8% over October 2019 after a 4% increase in September. It appears that imported goods are starting to flow, as well as shortages of raw materials for domestic manufacturers has started to diminish, though prices of certain materials seem to be rising due to the shortages,” the report said. “Year to date, shipments remained 8% below the pace of the same period last year.”


Business in 2021 probably won’t remain as strong as it has been in recent months, but continued good news is likely, the report said.


“We do expect that significant growth to slow somewhat in the next few months,” it said, “but most whom we have talked with seem to believe results will stay positive at least through the first part of the year.”

12-24-2020 – Business startup space now ready

Posted on: December 29th, 2020 by admin


December 24, 2020



By Kara Fohner

Dec 23, 2020 Updated Dec 23, 2020



A space designed to help new businesses expand is now open at Hudson’s HUB Station.


Carmela Tomlinson, director of the small business center at Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute, said that the 600-square-foot area is divided into five workstations, each with a desk, a chair, and a filing cabinet.


The room is a “business incubator space,” a place to “provide entrepreneurs or startup businesses an area to be able to have affordable space to lease. They’re in a room together. They’re in a shared space where they can work creatively,” she said.


The space is called Entrepreneur Development and Group Engagement, or EDGE.


The color scheme in the room is bright, and the layout modern — and that’s intentional, she said.


“We want even the aesthetics of the room to create an energy in an area that will help promote creativity,” she said.


The incubator space is an addition to the college’s small businesses center at the HUB Station. Tomlinson hopes to lease space to both startup and existing businesses to establish a collaborative, creative environment.


“The HUB Station now has one building that’s the art center, and then we also have the business center,” she said. “The idea of the HUB Station is bringing entrepreneurs, businesses and artisans together on one campus.”


The business incubator space will be available for lease starting Jan. 1. Space can be leased up to one year at a time. After a year, Tomlinson hopes that they’ll consider leasing space elsewhere in the business center.


Those interested in leasing space can call Tomlinson at 828-726-3065 or email her


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

12-22-2020 – Grant would fund diesel mechanics program

Posted on: December 22nd, 2020 by admin


December 22, 2020



By Kara Fohner

Dec 21, 2020 Updated 12 hrs ago


Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute is applying for a grant that would pay for the launch of a diesel mechanics program.


If the college receives the grant from the Golden LEAF Foundation’s Community-Based Grants Initiative, which supports economic growth projects in rural communities, the new program would deliver instruction on how to fix and maintain tractor trailers and similar machinery.


Randy Ledford, the vice president of instruction at the community college, said that the $1.1 million grant would help pay for renovations to the facility where the college maintains the trucks used in the truck-driver-training program, creating a dual-use space they could use for instruction.


The grant would also pay for a traveling lab. The college currently partners with colleges across the state to deliver the truck driving program, and it could do something similar with the diesel mechanics program, said Dr. Mark Poarch, the college president.


“We’ve gotten a pretty broad reach with our truck-driver-training program. The portable part that Randy is talking about would allow us to take some of the service-based diesel instruction, more short-term kind of instruction, to those off-campus locations where we’re also delivering truck driver training,” he said.


Poarch said the truck driving program offers the perfect training ground for an accompanying diesel mechanics program.


“Students will have lots of work-based learning opportunities if we’re able to get this program started,” he said.

College officials hope to know by April if the grant is approved, but because the North Carolina Community Colleges system’s approval process for new programs is lengthy, the program probably would not begin until at least 2022.


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

12-18-2020 – Grant will fund fast internet

Posted on: December 18th, 2020 by admin


December 18, 2020



By Kara Fohner

Dec 17, 2020 Updated 12 hrs ago


The state is providing grants for 18 projects to extend broadband infrastructure to rural areas, including one in Caldwell County, to help them gain access to high-speed internet service.


Blue Ridge Energy applied for a North Carolina Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology grant to help pay for infrastructure to support high-speed internet in communities near N.C. 268 from Indian Grave Road east toward Ferguson. But company officials thought the state was not going to be able to provide any grants in this cycle of application.


However, Gov. Roy Cooper announced Thursday that the funding was granted after all.


Renee Whitener, director of public relations for Blue Ridge Energy, said that more information about Blue Ridge’s plans and its timetable may be available next week.


“All I can tell you is that we received notice that we were awarded the grant, and we’re very excited for what this means for members in parts of northern Caldwell County,” she said.


The company said in October that it would build “fiber-optic backbone infrastructure” that would affect 412 places on multiple roads, including Indian Grave Road, Buffalo Cove Road, Yadkin Lane, Laytown Road and Nubbin Creek Road, in partnership with SkyBest Communications, a telecommunications cooperative based in West Jefferson.


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

12-15-2020 – Textile company opening plant in Lenoir

Posted on: December 15th, 2020 by admin


December 15, 2020



By Guy Lucas

Dec 15, 2020 Updated 1 hr ago

An industrial textile manufacturer says it plans to open a new plant in Lenoir making “narrow fabrics,” including webbing and binding tape.


MMI Textiles Inc., based in Cleveland, Ohio, announced what it called a major expansion of its operations, a 30,000-square-foot plant that will open at 652 Nuway Circle in Lenoir in the first quarter of 2021. MMI describes itself as a global diversified supplier of industrial and custom fabrics and textile components with military, tactical, medical, commercial and apparel expertise.


MMI President and Founder Amy Bircher said in a press release that the company will invest in new equipment for the plant. The company did not say how much it will spend on the new plant and equipment.


“We believe this significant investment – especially at a time when businesses around the globe are being challenged as never before – demonstrates our agility as an always-on, end-to-end provider and producer of innovative customer solutions,” Bircher said.


Deborah Murray, the executive director of the Caldwell County Economic Development Commission, said that MMI’s equipment will include modern, advanced looms.


“Textile is part of our history here, but this is a totally different take on it,” she said.


The plant will house both MMI Textiles’ manufacturing operation and a textile printing operation for Mikan Printing, a partner company, the press release said. The two operations will be integrated under one roof to ensure quality control and timely delivery.


In October the Caldwell County Board of Commissioners approved offering job-creation incentives to MMI and Mikan of $2,000 for each new job they create, up to a total of 12 jobs for MMI and eight for Mikan. At the time, MMI was identified publicly only as Project M&M, and Mikan was identified only as Project Toucan. The incentives would be paid to the companies only after the companies provide documentation of jobs being filled and maintained for a specified period.


Katie Seel, a spokeswoman for MMI, said that MMI will begin with three or so jobs at the new plant and build from there.


Murray said that although the number of new jobs is small to start, “it will be further diversification of our economy.”


The new plant will focus on manufacturing and printing narrow fabrics, including a full line of webbing and binding tape products that meet military specifications, MMI said in the press release. The main driver behind the new operation is MMI’s CTEdge Printed Narrow Fabrics webbing and binding tape woven with different color threads that allow the border to blend into the materials behind it.

12-15-2020 – County sees strong wage growth

Posted on: December 15th, 2020 by admin


December 15, 2020



By Guy Lucas

Dec 14, 2020 Updated 13 hrs ago


A new state report confirms income growth in Caldwell County that continues to outpace that of neighboring counties.


The average private sector wage — the average annual pay of all non-government full-time jobs — in Caldwell County this year was $41,157, up $1,033 or 2.6% from last year, the N.C. Labor and Economic Analysis Division reported.


Since 2015, the county’s average wage has climbed by $9,148, or 28.9%.


The wage is based on the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages data from the third quarter of 2019 through the second quarter of 2020.


The highest average wage in the Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton metropolitan statistical area continues to be Catawba County’s, but in recent years Caldwell’s wage growth has outpaced Catawba’s.


Catawba’s average 2020 wage was $43,920, up $787 or 1.8% from last year, and up $7,168 or 19.5% since 2015.


Burke’s average 2020 wage was $37,414, up $613 or 1.7% from last year, and up $4,481 or 13.6% since 2015.


Deborah Murray, the executive director of the Caldwell County Economic Development Commission, said the numbers confirm the areas of strength in the county’s economy.


“The increase over the last several years is a reflection of the increase in advanced manufacturing in our county as well as the further diversification of companies, including the expansion of biotech/pharma,” she said.


That growth is masked in some measures of the county’s economy, including average household wage, because of many of the new, higher-paying jobs created in recent years have been filled by workers living outside Caldwell County. That is one reason the EDC has been working for several years to lure residential developers, particularly for apartments.


Until recently, no new housing other than custom homes had been built in Caldwell in many years.


But now single-family housing is under construction in the Parkview subdivision of northeastern Lenoir, and a Charlotte developer is renovating the former Blue Bell factory near downtown Lenoir into market-rate apartments.


Murray and other local officials have said they expect the new housing to sell and lease quickly, which could spur other developers to begin new projects.

12-9-2020 – Developer hopes to fill housing niche

Posted on: December 9th, 2020 by admin


December 9, 2020



By Guy Lucas

Dec 8, 2020 Updated 12 hrs ago


For the first time in years, a builder has houses under construction in Lenoir without having specific buyers lined up for them.


Brushy Mountain Builders has begun the first two of what will be 18 houses in the Parkview subdivision near the corner of Zacks Fork Road and Nuway Circle on the northeast side of Lenoir.


The target buyers are young professionals who work in the Lenoir area, first-time homeowners and “empty-nesters” who are downsizing, April Welch of Brushy Mountain Builders told the Caldwell County Economic Development Commission’s board of directors.


The subdivision was started in the early 2000s by another developer, but the economic downturn later in that decade squelched it along with most residential development in the county. The market for custom-built housing returned as the economy recovered, but other residential construction remained largely stalled despite growing demand fueled by Caldwell County’s new and growing industries.


Deborah Murray, the executive director of the EDC, said that Parkview will help fill a gaping need, and she hopes other developers will be encouraged by it.


“Our employers have been aching for this,” Murray said. “We’re hoping that they (Brushy Mountain Builders) do well and others come quickly on their heels.”


Alan Merck, senior vice president and chief operating officer for Blue Ridge Energy, which has its headquarters and district office less than a mile from the subdivision, said some of his employees already have expressed interest.


Welch said that Brushy Mountain’s experience from 14 years of building custom houses is being put to use for this development, which she called a “semi-custom building project.” The houses will have popular modern features, such as hardwood floors, vaulted ceilings, a gas fireplace, “outdoor living” space, and a “smart drawer” that includes a phone-charging station, she said.


Prices will start in the range of $275,000-$320,000, she said.


The first two houses should be move-in-ready about May.

12-3-2020 – Jobs surged in October, report says

Posted on: December 3rd, 2020 by admin


December 3, 2020



By Guy Lucas

Dec 3, 2020 Updated 1 hr ago


The state and local economies both saw a surge in hiring in October, according to a new state report on unemployment.


The number of Caldwell County residents with jobs jumped by almost 600 in October while more people rejoined the workforce and number without jobs dropped by about 300, leading the county’s unemployment rate to drop by almost a full percentage point, going from 7.5% in September to 6.6%, the N.C. Labor and Economic Analysis Division reported.


Caldwell’s numbers in the report are the best they have been since March. Deborah Murray, the executive director of the Caldwell County Economic Development Commission, said that the continuous improvement was a good sign.


“That said, employers have had their greatest challenge during these last months, and it appears it will continue until the COVID numbers begin to fall,” she said. “Positive cases and the consequential quarantines (of those workers) are creating serious challenges in the workplace. I am, however, so very impressed with the diligence Caldwell employers have approached workplace safety during these times.”


The local unemployment rate dropped in all 100 counties in the state, though only 13 saw larger decreases than Caldwell.


Neighboring Burke County’s rate dropped 0.8 of a point to 5.7%, and Catawba’s dropped by 1 point to 6.2% Statewide, the number of people without jobs dropped by about 37,000 and the number with jobs surged by about 99,000 as more people rejoined the workforce. People who do not have jobs but are not actively seeking work do not count toward the most reported unemployment number.


The report also shows that unlike in August and September, when the bulk of hiring was related to the new school year starting up, hiring through mid-October was well distributed across the economy, both locally and statewide.


The overall Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton metropolitan statistical area regained about 2,400 jobs from mid-September to mid-October, the report said. The largest number, about 800, were in manufacturing, the region’s largest employment sector, but about 500 were in leisure and hospitality, 400 in professional business services, 200 in trade, transportation and utilities, 200 in government, 100 in education and health, and 100 in mining, logging and construction.


The economy still has a long way to go to cover the jobs lost in the spring following the extensive shutdowns caused by efforts to stem the spread of COVID-19. Even with October’s gain, the Hickory region was still about 13,000 jobs, or 8.3%, short of the number it had in October 2019, the report said.


The overall Hickory region’s unemployment rate of 6.1% in October compares to 3.4% in October 2019. Caldwell’s rate in October 2019 was 3.7%.


Murray said the remaining high number of unemployed workers does not reflect the strength of the local economy.


“Employers have tremendous need for additional employees,” she said. “The current pandemic has shrunk the supply of local available workers to fill them.”

12-2-2020 – Report shows foothills region struggling

Posted on: December 2nd, 2020 by admin


December 2, 2020



By Guy Lucas

Dec 1, 2020 Updated 13 hrs ago


A swath of North Carolina’s foothills — stretching from the South Carolina line through Caldwell County to near the Virginia line — has fallen behind other counties in the western part of the state, according to a new state report.


Caldwell remains identified among the state’s 40 most economically distressed counties in the N.C. Department of Commerce’s North Carolina Development Tier Designations report, but it has gained local company.


Both Burke and Alexander counties dropped into Tier 1, the designation for the most economically distressed. That creates a region of six contiguous counties — Rutherford, Cleveland, Burke, Caldwell, Alexander and Wilkes — designated as Tier 1.


Only the state’s impoverished Coastal Plain has a larger collection.


The Tier 1 designation can help those counties get certain grants and other economic development aid. The 20 counties that are judged best off are designated as Tier 3, and the rest are Tier 2.


High unemployment driven by the pandemic was one reason for Caldwell and others losing ground, said Deborah Murray, the executive director of the Caldwell County Economic Development Commission. The report uses the average unemployment rate for each county from October 2019 to September 2020, so the severe effects of closures during the pandemic were factored in. Caldwell County’s unemployment rate was just the 47th highest in last year’s tier report, but it’s 27th highest this year.


One major caveat applies to this year’s tier designations report: It is based largely on data from before the pandemic struck, so the picture it paints of any county’s economic health may be somewhat out of synch with real conditions.


For instance, the median household income numbers in the report come from 2018. Population growth figures are from July 2016 to July 2019.


Still, Caldwell County retreated in comparison with other counties in the data used by the report. Last year, Caldwell was rated as being the 40th most economically distressed county and dropped from Tier 2 to Tier 1. The county had teetered right around the Tier 1/Tier 2 cutoff line for several years.


But this year it is rated as 26th most distressed, solidly in the pack for Tier 1.


Besides unemployment, a big factor in that drop was a decline in household income from $44,798 in 2017, 44th lowest in the state, to $43,328 in 2018, 34th lowest.


“Median household income was the most significant disappointment,” Murray said. “We know that Caldwell’s average private sector wage has grown substantially in recent years (and is not yet released for this year) so there is more study of the numbers needed to understand the drop from 2017 to 2018.”


Murray said that one bright spot for Caldwell was its per-capita property tax base, which is the overall assessed value of property in the county divided by population. Caldwell increased its per-capita tax base year over year by approximately $4,000, to $87,524.


And Murray thinks that a perennial problem statistic for the county, population growth, may be poised for improvement. One significant multi-family apartment project, in the former Blue Bell factory near downtown Lenoir, is underway, and Murray thinks more will follow once that project demonstrates the demand here for market-rate apartments.


“I do not mind telling you that given the growth in the pipeline for housing and local new and expanded industry, Caldwell’s economy will move us back to Tier 2 in the near future,” she said.

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