Archive for April, 2021

4-29-2021 – Local jobless rate drops again

Posted on: April 29th, 2021 by admin


April 29, 2021



By Guy Lucas

Apr 28, 2021 Updated 12 hrs ago


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Posted on: April 26th, 2021 by admin


April 26, 2021



By Kara Fohner

Apr 23, 2021


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


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


The facility will begin accepting residents in late May.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

4-16-2021 – Drug maker to reuse Broyhill warehouse

Posted on: April 16th, 2021 by admin


April 16, 2021



By Guy Lucas

Apr 15, 2021


A rapidly growing pharmaceutical company in Lenoir announced another expansion Thursday that will bring new life to a long-vacant building downtown.


The announcement by Exela Pharma Sciences came after Gov. Roy Cooper’s office announced a $500,000 grant from the N.C. Rural Infrastructure Authority to help Exela pay to renovate the building for its expansion.


In addition to the state grant, the project has been approved by the Caldwell County Board of Commissioners for job-creation incentives of $2,000 for each new job created up to 100 jobs. When the commissioners approved the incentives in early March, Exela was not publicly identified as the company involved. Instead, it was referred to only as Project Xplode.


Deborah Murray, the executive director of the Caldwell County Economic Development Commission, told the commissioners at that time that the project would involve a $10.2 million investment in starting a new product line.


Neither the governor’s office nor Exela, which produces generic and private label injectable products, provided details about what the new product line will involve.


The renovation will take place in a two-story, 76,646-square-foot former trucking warehouse at 1170 West Ave., just west of downtown, that Broyhill Furniture Industries built, Murray said.


Exela bought that warehouse, which was built in 1964, about three weeks ago for $620,000, according to Caldwell County property records.


Murray said the building was one of the last that Broyhill engineered.


“That building will require extensive renovation” to bring it up to Food and Drug Administration standards, she said.


Phanesh Koneru, the CEO of Exela, said the expansion would involve creating what is called a cGMP warehouse. That refers to Current Good Manufacturing Practice regulations, which are how the FDA assures that manufacturing processes for human pharmaceuticals meet its standards.


“We are thrilled to have been awarded the North Carolina Building Reuse Grant. These funds will help us build a cGMP warehouse to support our expansion plans into the next two to three years,” Koneru said. “We very much appreciate the continuous support we receive from the North Carolina Department of Commerce, Caldwell County and the City of Lenoir.”


Koneru began Exela in Lenoir in 2008, with a handful of employees in 20,000 square feet of space. The company now has hundreds of employees in more than 400,000 square feet of space. Exela’s headquarters and main operations are in the former headquarters of Broyhill Furniture on U.S. 321.


Murray noted that the Rural Infrastructure Authority’s building reuse grant program has been an essential tool for many of Caldwell County’s economic development projects, helping with significant renovations to vacant or underutilized buildings.

4-14-2021 – Hudson receives aid from state

Posted on: April 14th, 2021 by admin


April 14, 2021



By Carmen Boone

Apr 13, 2021  Top of Form


Hudson is among 10 communities in North Carolina that will receive support from the state to aid in their economic recovery, Governor Roy Cooper said in a press release.


The Town of Hudson Steering Committee is collaborating with the N.C. Main Street and Rural Planning Center and N.C. Hometown Strong, a state initiative that aids rural communities, to develop a recovery plan in Hudson for small business support, economic improvement and recruitment, said Patrice Bethea, deputy communications director for the N.C. Department of Commerce.


The plan, part of the state’s Community Economic Recovery and Resiliency Initiative, will emphasize economic resiliency and downtown revitalization in efforts to help Hudson and others recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, Bethea said.


To gauge what help Hudson needs, state officials will interview local business owners to determine the economic, social and physical impacts of the pandemic, Town Manager Rebecca Bentley said. The state will then collaborate with business owners to come up with plans for recovery and decide how to implement them, she said.


Much of the funding for these plans will be drawn from the Department of Commerce’s normal budget, although there will be other sources of funding as well, Bethea said.


She said that the goal of CERRI in Hudson is to support the town in any capacity they can.


The plan “will help Hudson complete a community assessment of the impacts of the pandemic on the local economy, future economic growth opportunities, a local economic recovery strategy, a plan of work and it will help Hudson implement its recovery strategy for downtown revitalization,” she said.


Hudson is still in the early planning stages, Bentley said. More information will be available once plans are in motion this summer. The downtown revitalization project is expected to be completed by the end of July.


Reporter Carmen Boone can be reached at 828-610-8723


4-13-2021 – Caldwell leaders celebrate economic milestones

Posted on: April 13th, 2021 by admin


April 13, 2021



By Guy Lucas


Despite the economic hurdles posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 was a banner year for economic development in Caldwell County, local business leaders said Tuesday in a meeting held via videoconference because of the pandemic.


The Caldwell County Economic Development Commission held its annual Economic Development Celebration online for the first time.


Merchants Distributors Inc., a wholesale grocery distributor that operates a massive complex just east of Granite Falls, was named Industry of the Year, and EDC Executive Director Deborah Murray received the Herman Anderson Award.


MDI announced on Oct. 1 plans to invest $120 million in adding a 200,000-square-foot building to its more than 1 million-square-foot distribution complex, the largest expansion since MDI first came to Caldwell County in 1995.


Mark Poarch, the chairman of the EDC’s board of directors, said the expansion will be one of the largest capital investments in the county’s history.


In addition to creating 111 new jobs, the expansion involves an automated sort-and-retrieval system that will be state of the art, he said.


The EDC board selected Murray for the Herman Anderson Award, given each year to a key economic development advocate, in part as recognition of the EDC’s record number of 32 approved projects representing $165 million of investment – with $23 million worth of construction currently underway – and 966 pledged jobs despite the overhanging effects of COVID-19, Poarch said.


“These great economic development projects didn’t just happen,” he said.


But Poarch also praised Murray for becoming a centralized resource for COVID-19 information for employers in the early months of the pandemic, when there was a lot of fear and confusion. She also helped some manufacturers shift their production lines to begin producing personal protective equipment, or PPE, he said.


Murray indicated she wasn’t comfortable being the award recipient because of the teamwork and partnerships inherent in her work for the EDC.


“Me receiving this was a big argument at one point,” she said. Others “work just as hard as I do.”

4-7-2021 – Local job numbers jump higher

Posted on: April 7th, 2021 by admin


April 7, 2021



By Guy Lucas


Caldwell County followed a statewide trend of jumps in employment in February, bringing the county’s employment to its highest point since before the COVID-19 pandemic began.


The number of Caldwell residents with jobs jumped by about 300, dropping the local unemployment rate in February to 5.9%, the N.C. Labor and Economic Analysis Division reported. The division also revised the January unemployment rate from the original 6.3% to 6.2%.


The county’s number of employed residents rose above 34,200, the first time it has been above 34,000 since before the pandemic began, which shows the local economy is recovering, said Deborah Murray, the executive director of the Caldwell County Economic Development Commission.


“Caldwell continues a steady return to pre-COVID employment. It is great to see employment, and the workforce as a whole, show good increases,” she said.


Caldwell County lost more than 7,500 jobs due to the pandemic, judging by the change in employment from almost 36,000 in February 2020 to a low of just under 28,000 in April 2020. Since then employment in the county has made mostly slow but steady gains.


Improvement in February was seen across the board, with employment jumping by a total of about 50,000 statewide and local unemployment rates dropping in 96 of the state’s 100 counties. Most saw their rate drop by at least 0.3 point.


Catawba County’s rate declined by 0.4 point to 5.4%, and Burke’s dropped by 0.4 to 5.3%.


The overall Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton metropolitan statistical area’s unemployment rate dropped 0.4 point to 5.4%, the third lowest in the state. The Durham-Chapel Hill and Raleigh metro areas were tied with the lowest rate, 4.7%, and the Asheville and Wilmington areas both had a rate of 5.1%.


The size of the labor force also grew statewide by more than 30,000, indicating more long-term unemployed people returning to look for jobs. Those who are not looking are not counted as unemployed.


Caldwell’s labor force grew by about 200 from January to February.


Murray said many local employers are eager to hire.


“Employers are anxious for more skilled workers to return to the workplace because companies are adding daily to their workforces. Orders are up in spite of supply chain challenges,” she said. “We have seen an increase in interest from new (industrial recruitment) clients, and we are seeing increases in employers recruiting workers from the region as well as out of state. It is an unusually growing time.”



4-7-2021 – Large solar energy project planned

Posted on: April 7th, 2021 by admin


April 7, 2021



By Guy Lucas


Apr 6, 2021


Blue Ridge Energy plans to build a large solar energy array in the Grace Chapel area in a matter of months.


The member-owned electric cooperative based in Lenoir announced Tuesday that the utility-scale solar farm, which it is calling the Brighter Future Solar project, will cover 50-55 acres along Grace Chapel Road across from the Grace Chapel Emergency Services building (the former Grace Chapel Fire Department. It will generate about 19,000 megawatts of power a year, enough to power about 1,600 homes and is expected to come online during 2021.


It is by far the largest solar project the company has undertaken. Blue Ridge has so far built only five small “solar gardens” — which combined cover only about 4 acres and produce enough power for 75 homes, the company said.


The largest solar array in the county currently is one that Bernhardt Furniture Co. installed in 2015 on the rooftop of Plant 4’s 250,000-square-foot building on Connelly Springs Road. It produces a little more than one-tenth the amount of electricity that Blue Ridge Energy’s project is expected to produce.


CEO Doug Johnson said the project allow Blue Ridge Energy to work towards two significant carbon-reduction targets: cutting the company’s carbon emissions to half of its 2005 levels by 2030 and achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050.


“To meet our sustainability goals while upholding our commitments to reliability and affordability, we are focusing our efforts on areas that make the electric grid more flexible, efficient, resilient, and capable of supporting new energy solutions and the vitality of our communities,” he said.


Blue Ridge selected Oriden, a renewable energy developer based in Pittsburgh that is funded by Mitsubishi Power Americas Inc., to develop the solar farm, including overseeing all project permitting, site diligence, engineering, and major equipment decisions.


United Renewable Energy is providing late stage development support, engineering, procurement and construction services. URE develops, designs, builds and maintains solar photovoltaic and energy storage systems for utilities, industrial and commercial companies, independent power producers, and electrical membership co-operatives.


Pisgah Energy, which provides comprehensive solar and energy storage design and development services across the Southeast, also is assisting.


Blue Ridge Energy will purchase the full output of the project through a 25-year agreement. The company said in its announcement this will help control wholesale power costs to keep rates stable for cooperative members. In the future, the project can help the cooperative provide alternative rate options and help manage peak power demands for electricity.

4-2-2021 – College gets money to train diesel mechanics

Posted on: April 5th, 2021 by admin


April 2, 2021



By Guy Lucas

Apr 1, 2021


Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute will receive more than $1 million to develop a program to train mechanics to work on buses, trucks and other diesel equipment.


The Golden LEAF Foundation’s Board of Directors announced the $1.098 grant Thursday as part of a series of grants. It was one of the largest of 14 grants totaling $9.6 million in the Northwest Prosperity Zone, which covers Alexander, Ashe, Burke, Caldwell, Catawba, McDowell, Mitchell, Watauga and Wilkes counties.


The money will pay for tools, equipment, wrapped truck and trailer, trainers, and parts to develop a regional diesel and heavy equipment technology program that would be the only diesel program serving Caldwell, Watauga, Burke, Catawba and Alexander counties, the foundation said in a press release.


Randy Ledford, the vice president of instruction at the community college, said in December that the college plans to renovate the facility where the college maintains the trucks used in its truck-driver-training program, creating a dual-use space.


The program will provide training both on the CCC&TI main campus and through a mobile training unit. 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, college President Mark Poarch said in December.


College officials have said the program probably would not be ready to begin until at least 2022.


Employment for bus, truck and diesel technicians is expected to grow by 155 jobs a year in the area served, the foundation said.


Another job-training-related grant in the region will send $1.5 million to Western Piedmont Community College in Morganton to construct a 30,000-square-foot Construction Trades Solution Center. It will offer degree and certificate training programs in carpentry, masonry, electrical technologies, HVAC, plumbing and green construction principles. Catawba Valley Community College will collaborate to serve students from Alexander and Catawba counties.


The training programs would help meet a projected regional shortage of more than 3,700 skilled construction workers over the next five years.


The Golden LEAF Foundation is a nonprofit organization that supports efforts to increase economic opportunity in North Carolina’s rural communities or those that once relied on growing tobacco.

4-1-2021 – Furniture orders keep booming

Posted on: April 1st, 2021 by admin


April 1, 2021



By Guy Lucas


Mar 31, 2021


A consulting firm that follows the furniture industry keeps expecting the hot growth in furniture orders to cool off, but it hasn’t happened yet.


Manufacturers and distributors reported that new furniture orders rose 27% in January compared to January 2020, the same percentage increase as in December and the eighth straight month of orders increasing from the previous year’s level, according to the latest Furniture Insights report from the Smith Leonard firm.


More than three-fourths of the companies surveyed by Smith Leonard saw increased orders, “and some are experiencing very large double-digit growth,” the report said.


Unfortunately, some months-long problems holding the industry back also have continued: shortages of supplies, particularly foam for upholstery, labor shortages and growing delivery backlogs, CPA Ken Smith wrote in the report.


“Most people we talk with say they can never remember business being this good, yet most admit they would have never imagined the challenges that have emerged in the midst of such positive growth,” he wrote.


Shipments in January were slightly higher than in January 2019 but actually were down from December, contributing to a 2% increase in backlogged deliveries. The backlogs in January were 177% higher than in January 2019.


Because of those backlogs, the increasing prices of supplies continues to hit hard.


“In most cases, orders are placed based on current price lists, but by the time the goods can be made and shipped, the prices have gone up,” the report said.


Although past predictions of slower growth have fizzled, Smith wrote once again that companies should expect the growth in new furniture orders to slow down.


“We do expect business to slow a bit over the next few months. As travel and vacations start to resume, we imagine some of the purchasing power will dry up. We think it will still be positive but just not as robust,” he wrote. “Hopefully, this will allow folks to take a breath and catch up somewhat. In the meantime, enjoy the good business as best you can.”


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