Archive for February, 2021

2-26-2021 – Furniture industry threats seen looming

Posted on: February 26th, 2021 by admin


February 26, 2021



By Guy Lucas


Feb 25, 2021



Furniture manufacturers face a growing threat of dual problems from growing backlogs: dissatisfied customers and eroding profits.


That’s the verdict contained in the latest Furniture Insights report from Smith Leonard, an accounting and consulting firm based in High Point.


The report says that furniture orders in December were higher than expected — 27% above the level in December 2019, so the total order for all of 2020 finished 15% ahead of 2019.


Not all companies finished the year with orders up from 2019, but 78% of the companies surveyed by Smith Leonard said they did.


But, as has been the case for months, backlogs in shipping products to customers just keep growing and in December were 168% higher than in December 2019.


“In the old days, a big backlog was great, but then somebody realized that the end customers wanted it NOW, so the industry brought them down. Now customers are not happy with the wait and some are looking at other places to get product faster,” the report said. “We are hearing more and more about cancellations of orders.”


Clearing the backlogs will be difficult as long as it remains hard to find workers, the report said. The number of factory and warehouse employees in December was down 3% from December 2019, despite relatively high overall unemployment. The greatest number of the unemployed are from the hospitality industry, the report noted.


“It has really been difficult for domestic manufacturers to get people as so many of the unemployed folks in hospitality jobs such as hotels and travel-related jobs are not trained. It takes a lot of time to get people trained, and many are not looking to start new careers,” the report said.


Besides the threat of cancelled orders, companies now also face a growing trend of rising costs for raw materials, imported goods and freight.


“This is creating problems for orders that were priced weeks ago that will now cost more to produce or otherwise get to the customer,” the report said.


The report suggested, as last month’s also did, that companies need to raise prices.


“No one likes price increases, but there are times that they have to go up, and this seems to be one of those times,” the report said.

2-10-2021 – Vaccine eligibility headaches loom, official says

Posted on: February 10th, 2021 by admin


February 10, 2021



By Guy Lucas

Feb 9, 2021


State officials say it probably will be weeks before more groups of people are made eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations, but when that time comes it will bring some headaches for those in charge of vaccine clinics, a Caldwell County health executive says.


Among the problems is that the state guidelines on the next groups who will become eligible are vague and open to interpretation, Laura Easton, the CEO of Caldwell UNC Health Care, told the Caldwell County Economic Development Commission’s board of directors on Tuesday.


The first of those groups is “frontline essential workers,” which the state defines as consisting of several broad categories, and it offers limited examples for each. For instance, one category is “critical manufacturing,” and the guidelines say, “Including for example” the following:

  • Workers manufacturing medical supplies, medical equipment or personal protective equipment.
  • Workers manufacturing products needed for food and agricultural supply chains.

“It’s going to be challenging for us to figure out … and I honestly don’t know how we’re going to do it,” she said.


The state guidelines that were issued in December on what constituted essential workers was broader than the most recent guidelines, she said.


A group that would become eligible after essential workers is “adults at high risk for exposure and increased risk of severe illness.” The guidelines cite the CDC’s list of conditions that increase the risk of severe illness, which include such common conditions as moderate asthma, high blood pressure, being overweight, pregnancy, and being a smoker.


“Most of us are probably going to be in that category,” Easton said.


She said she would prefer to find the fastest way to vaccinate the greatest number of people.


“It seems to me we should just move people through and spend less time worrying about what category people are in,” she said. “(But) I don’t have that authority.”


The groups currently eligible for vaccinations are health care workers, residents and staff of long-term-care facilities, and anyone 65 or older. But the latter, particularly, is a large group, and the amount of vaccine supplied by the federal government has fallen far short of demand for shots, causing health officials to cancel and reschedule many people’s appointments.


Although the short supply is frustrating people, Easton said that Caldwell UNC and Caldwell County Health Department workers have been getting vaccinations done as rapidly as the supplies come in.


They also have done a better-than-average job compared to the rest of the state in getting Black residents vaccinated, in part by working through local churches, she said.


According to the N.C. Department of Human Services, 6.2% of Caldwell County’s Black residents have received at least their first dose of vaccine, compared to 5.7% of Black residents statewide; and 12.4% of Caldwell’s white residents have received at least their first dose, compared to 10.5% statewide.

2-5-2021 – County renews revenue split

Posted on: February 5th, 2021 by admin


February 5, 2021




Feb 4, 2021 Updated 13 hrs ago


Caldwell County is renewing an agreement with the county’s municipal governments dedicating some of the sales tax revenue that each municipality receives to economic development projects.


The first sales tax reinvestment agreement was approved more than 10 years ago. Caldwell County and the governments of Lenoir, Hudson, Sawmills, Gamewell and Cajah’s Mountain have renewed or extended the agreement multiple times. Granite Falls, Cajah’s Mountain and Lenoir approved extending the agreement this week, and Gamewell, Hudson and Sawmills will take up the issue over the next two weeks.


The newest agreement will last until 2025 and require each town to return a set amount of money from its sales tax revenues to the county: Gamewell $189,000; Sawmills $194,000; Granite Falls $27,500; Hudson $27,500; Cajah’s Mountain $155,000; and Lenoir $7,000.


County Finance Director Tony Helton said that there is no hard and fast formula that decides how much each municipality owes, but it is based on the revenue each municipality receives compared to what it generates.


The county distributes sales tax revenue based on population rather than based on the property tax the municipalities assess. For example, Gamewell received $91,625 in November based on its share of the total population in the county. But because Gamewell does not charge a property tax, it would get nothing under the other method.


At the same time, larger municipalities with property taxes such as Lenoir would get a much higher proportion of the countywide sales tax revenue than they do when population is the basis for the revenue split, so they are not asked to pay as much into the reinvestment fund, Helton said.

2-5-2021 – Time to boost bottom line, furniture report says

Posted on: February 5th, 2021 by admin


February 5, 2021



By Guy Lucas

Feb 4, 2021 Updated 12 hrs ago


Furniture orders continued to be strong in November, just not as much as the previous five months, and manufacturers should raise prices, a consulting firm that follows the industry says.


Orders were up 17% from November 2019, putting orders for the first 11 months of 2020 14% ahead of where they were in the first 11 months of 2019, according to the latest Furniture Insights report from Smith Leonard, an accounting and consulting firm based in High Point.


As has been the case, not all manufacturers have seen orders increase from 2019’s levels, but two-thirds of all manufacturers answering Smith Leonard’s survey have. That is an improvement from the previous month, when it was just a little more than half.


Ken Smith of Smith Leonard wrote that companies should take advantage of the chance to solidify their profit margins.


“With demand this strong, we hope that at retail and wholesale, the industry does not give up margins just to chase sales,” he wrote. “We realize the industry thrives on low prices in too many cases, but it makes no sense to try to enjoy all these increased sales at low margins.”


Backlogs remain the industry’s big problem, he wrote.


“Backlogs continued to grow in November to levels certainly not remembered in my years of following our statistics,” he wrote. “We hear of some custom upholstery companies quoting as many as 20 weeks for delivery. We have heard that backlogs are slowly coming down, but that is a slow process due to lack of trained people as well as … flow on goods especially from Asia.”


The report projected strength for the industry in the coming months, though the backlog is a shadow hanging over that.


“The consensus with most folks we talk to is that we should continue this good ride on into 2021,” it said. “One of the major concerns that we are hearing is that some dealers are starting to hear about cancellations due to the long lead times.”


Upholstery suppliers also report some shortages of raw materials, the report said.


“On the good side, most of the economic data that we think drives furniture sales is still good,” the report said.

2-4-2021 – Little movement in job reports

Posted on: February 4th, 2021 by admin


February 4, 2021



By Guy Lucas

Feb 3, 2021 Updated 12 hrs ago


Job growth statewide took baby steps in December, and conditions in Caldwell County and the larger Hickory region barely budged from where they were in November, according to a new state report.


Caldwell County’s unemployment rate was unchanged at 6.6% in December, the third consecutive month at that rate, with both the number of people unemployed and the size of the overall labor force showing slight improvements, the N.C. Labor and Economic Analysis Division reported.


Caldwell was in good company. Statewide the total number of jobs grew by fewer than 34,000, barely any change at all in an economy of more than 4.9 million jobs, and 57 of the state’s 100 counties saw changes of 0.1 percentage point or less in their unemployment rate.


Burke County’s rate went up by 0.1 point to 5.8%, while Catawba County’s went down by 0.1 point to 6%. The number of Catawba residents without jobs dropped by about 150, but otherwise, like Caldwell, neither county saw much change in overall numbers.


Deborah Murray, the executive director of the Caldwell County Economic Development Commission, said the silver lining is Caldwell’s unemployment rate is holding steady.


“I am very pleased to see increases in both the labor force and the number employed, but this remains a very challenging time,” she said. “We are very fortunate that many of our industries have benefitted from internet sales and fulfillment during the COVID economy.”


Plastics and packaging companies, which have a significant presence in Caldwell County, have been among those seeing increased demand during the pandemic, but they have been challenged to meet that demand, she said.


Other reports have shown that furniture companies also have seen increased demand but also growing backlogs in shipping.


Although North Carolina’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic-related shutdowns in the spring has been slower recently than during the fall, when a surge of hiring in October cut Caldwell’s unemployment rate from 7.5% to the current 6.6%, the Labor and Economic Analysis Division’s report projects statewide growth will continue rather than stall.


“Retail sales and residential building activity declined over the month but remained higher than pre-pandemic levels,” the report said. “Despite a recent slowdown in the national economy, business contacts surveyed by the Richmond Fed expect conditions in the Carolinas to continue improving over the next six months.”

1-31-2021 – City of Lenoir starts cleanup of old industrial site

Posted on: February 1st, 2021 by admin


January 31, 2021



Hickory Daily Record

From Staff Reports


LENOIR — The city started cleaning up an old industrial site located at the corner of Virginia Street and College Avenue near downtown. The cleanup is the first step in putting the property back into productive use.


The city contracted with RCI Demolition (RCI) to start removing possible asbestos-containing materials (ACM) from the Virginia Street site. RCI is working to separate old brick and concrete from the debris piles. Once the materials are separated, RCI will haul off all the old ACM debris and leave the brick and concrete on site.


Public Utilities Director Radford Thomas is leading the cleanup project. Thomas said staff doesn’t think there is a lot of ACM on the site, but debris is spread around the property.


“The cleanup is for the old debris piles on the property that might contain ACM, such as old flooring and roofing materials,” Thomas said. “Once RCI is finished, we’ll have a clean site to work with.”


The Virginia Street property, located at 1429 College Ave. SW, contains the remnants of an old furniture plant. In 2009, a private company demolished buildings on the property for scrap. The company then abandoned the site, went bankrupt, and left debris everywhere. Due to environmental concerns over the debris left on the property, no private companies were interested in buying and redeveloping the site. In 2014, the city foreclosed on the property for taxes owed.


The goal of the city and Lenoir City Council has always been to get the site cleaned up, get a brownfields agreement on the property, and then get the property back on the market, said City Manager Scott Hildebran.


“We would like to see investment made into the site that adds value for the city and the community. It’s a centralized location with good access in an area experiencing a lot of redevelopment and revitalization. Developers are building new apartments in the Blue Bell building. The property is right beside the city’s community garden, and the city is currently completing a portion of the rail/trail greenway adjacent to the parcel.”


To move toward that goal and to help redevelop other sites in Lenoir, Thomas worked to develop a brownfields program for the city several years ago. The primary purpose of a brownfields program is to review industrial sites and help owners secure an agreement that holds them harmless for any future environmental liabilities from the site. City staff, stakeholders, Mid-Atlantic Associates and the city’s Brownfields Advisory Committee worked for six years to develop the program and apply for grant funding from the Environment Protection Agency (EPA). The Brownfields Advisory Committee members are Thomas, Pete Kidder, Alan Merck, John Moore, Caldwell County Economic Development Commission Director Deborah Murray, Merlin Perry, Rick Pierce, Councilman David Stevens, City Planning Director Jenny Wheelock, and Councilman Ben Willis. Alvin Daughtridge and Jennifer Grayson previously served on the committee.


The city received EPA grant funding for the city’s brownfields program in 2018. The city also received a $300,000 Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) grant in 2019 to help clean up the Virginia Street property.


“Private businesses are usually hesitant to invest in old industrial sites without a brownfields agreement,” Thomas said. “New owners don’t want to be held liable for something done by the old owners or businesses. With a brownfields agreement, the owner is held harmless and is generally much more willing to invest and redevelop an old property.”


Once the Virginia Street site is “clean,” the city can move forward with environmental reviews of the property and apply for a brownfields agreement. The city is funding the cleanup with the $300,000 ARC grant and $250,000 from the city itself. Once the cleanup is finished, the city will use some of the brownfields program money to perform more environmental assessments on the property.


“We’re very pleased to get this project underway and get this site cleaned up,” Thomas said. “The city is doing everything it can to get the property ready for a new industry or business that can bring jobs and opportunities to the community.”


Wheelock, who worked to secure the ARC grant, said the property has huge potential for a variety of uses, because it’s next to the community gardens and the Over Mountain Victory Trail Rails-to-Trails project.


“By getting the debris removed and the brownfields agreement in place, we can market the property for higher and better uses, and hopefully attract a quality development that fits into the redevelopment goals for the area,” Wheelock said. “The Fairfield south vision calls for a ‘funky’ mix of industrial and residential uses, taking advantage of historic mills, community amenities, and proximity to downtown. At the same time, current industrial uses are still thriving, so this site could go in either direction creating job opportunities and infill development.”

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