Archive for June, 2021

6-18-2021 – Class will show work for pharmaceuticals

Posted on: June 21st, 2021 by admin


June 18, 2021



By Carmen Boone

Jun 18, 2021 Updated Jun 18, 2021


Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute is introducing a new class that will better prepare the students for jobs in the pharmaceutical industry and related fields.


The class, called BioWork, teaches skills for entry-level process technician jobs in bioprocess, pharmaceutical and chemical manufacturing, said director for workforce development at the college, Rick Shew.


He said the class is one semester, 136 hours of lectures combined with lab work. Students will learn how to operate equipment and grow cells.


The class will teach students how to properly distill chemicals and identify them in their purest form.


They will also learn to operate equipment used in the workplace, how to measure length, volume, mass and pressure, and how to follow workplace safety standards.


All of this training, Shew said, will prepare students for the sterile and tedious process of such things as growing living cells and producing pharmaceuticals.


“We want to mimic everything workers do at a pharmaceutical company,” he said.


One part of the process, he said, that students may find challenging is maintaining the sterile process while working in the clean room. To prevent contamination of any kind, anyone in the clean room must wear a special suit that covers their body from head to toe. This is to make sure that as they move around, their own cells or clothing particles do not get stirred into and contaminate the sterile products they are working on, Shew said. Wearing that full coverage and moving at a slow rate can be a hard environment to work in.


“Sometimes students have a lack of understanding about the environment and the personal protection equipment that goes with it,” he said. “This experience helps them prepare for that.”


Two companies in the area that are looking for that kind of experience are Stallergenes Greer, which makes products to combat allergies, and Exela Pharma Sciences, which makes a variety of injectable drugs.


There is a shortage of skilled workers right now, said Edward Terry, the executive director for community relations at the college.


“There is an immense need in the local economy for these workers,” he said. “This program will help students quickly and inexpensively gain skills employers are looking for.”


Classes will run from Aug. 3 to Dec. 21 on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.


Anyone interested in learning more or registering can call the continuing education department at the college at 828-726-2242.


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

6-17-2021 – Local company to make COVID-19 shots

Posted on: June 21st, 2021 by admin


June 17, 2021



By Guy Lucas


Jun 17, 2021



A Lenoir pharmaceutical company is planning to begin production of COVID-19 vaccine soon, the company’s leader told a congressional committee this week.


Phanesh Koneru, founder and CEO of Exela Pharma Sciences, was among a number of executives speaking by video to the U.S. House Agriculture Subcommittee on Commodity, Exchanges, Energy and Credit about federal investments to help manufacturing in rural areas, and he cited his company’s ability to begin manufacturing COVID-19 as an example of the success that can be achieved.


“We are about two weeks away from manufacturing, commercial production of COVID-19 vaccine from our place,” Koneru said.


He said he could not yet publicly identify the company Exela is partnering with.


In April, Gov. Roy Cooper’s office announced Exela would receive a $500,000 grant from the N.C. Rural Infrastructure Authority to help renovate the former Broyhill Furniture trucking warehouse at 1170 West Ave. as part of expansion involving a new product line. Neither the governor’s office nor Exela, which produces generic and private label injectable products, provided details at that time about what the new product line would involve.


Exela, which makes a number of injectable drugs, was legally formed in 2005 but did not begin production until 2010, Koneru said. It has grown from a handful of employees operating in 20,000 square feet of space then to almost 400 employees in about 500,000 square feet of space now due to about $400 million in investment, including a substantial amount of U.S. Department of Agriculture loans, he said.


“We have invested and reinvested every dollar,” he said.


Koneru said that the nature of his business, and his company’s rapid growth, means there is not a track record of steady revenues that banks require for making loans.


“So we rely on USDA support and private lending,” he said, but private loans carry steep interest costs.


He said Congress should raise the allowable amount of USDA loans from the current $25 million to $50 million to $100 million.


“That would help fast-growing, small companies like ours that require a lot of infrastructure investments,” he said.


Koneru also recommended that USDA create a college and high-school scholarship program to encourage students to come back to or remain in a rural area after graduation. Such scholarship program could entail forgiving a portion of the graduate’s student loans in exchange for working in a rural area for at least five years after graduation.


In answer to a question from Rep. Chris Jacobs, R-N.Y., Koneru said he chose to begin Exela in a rural area partly because the Lenoir area’s affordability made sense for the limited funds that Exela had available in the beginning but also because of quality-of-life factors common to other rural areas, including the lack of city traffic, good air quality and a lower cost of living.


“There are many advantages that can be replicated in many small communities,” he said.


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

6-16-2021 – New Construction pre-apprenticeship comes to CCC&TI

Posted on: June 17th, 2021 by admin


June 16, 2021



By Carmen Boone

Jun 17, 2021 Updated Jun 17, 2021


Jackson Brinkley, 16, a rising junior at South Caldwell High School, is building relationships with possible employers for his future after high school.


He is working with SteelCon Builders, a construction company, through a new program at Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute for high school juniors and seniors to get on-the-job training while learning about construction-related careers.


“It’s helping develop my future,” he said.


The program, Trade Up, began on the Watauga County campus last year and started June 7 on the Caldwell County campus, said Dr. Mark Barber, associate dean and vocational and technical studies director at the college.


The pre-apprenticeship allows students to connect with local businesses that handle general construction, carpentry, electrical work and heating and air, among other areas of work.


Students must complete 46 hours of work in the classroom before they are sent to job sites. Once they are connected with local contractors, students get 136-192 hours of on-the-job training, said Justin Harris, director of energy and construction trades at the college.


There is a severe labor shortage in construction right now, and it is hard to find skilled workers, Barber said. The hope is that the program can show high school students the opportunities posed by careers in construction.


“They get visuals and can observe what it’s really like,” he said.


Companies offering experience to students include Triplett’s Plumbing, Brushy Mountain Builders, Hibriten Construction, Premier Electric & Lighting and SteelCon Builders.


Students are paid for the work they do on job sites, Barber said. Once the class ends in August, those students have the opportunity to go straight into full-time employment.


Brinkley and Davidson Allen, also 16 and a junior at South Caldwell, are working with SteelCon Builders, which is working at Associated Hardwoods to lay the foundation and build walls for a new building in which to dry more lumber. Allen said it gives him a head start on his career.


“I like that I can make money while I’m learning,” Allen said.


Allen and Brinkley both said they will pursue a job in construction after high school because of what they have learned and how much they like the experience they are receiving.


Introducing younger workers into the construction business is what makes this program important, project manager David Gray said.


“They are eager to learn and willing to do the work,” he said. “With the aging workforce we have, it is hard to find workers right now. We need younger people willing to do the job, and those two certainly are.”


6-8-2021- Industrial park could make room for growth

Posted on: June 8th, 2021 by admin


June 8, 2021



By Kara Fohner


A new industrial park county officials hope to begin would be the first of its kind in decades, filling a void by providing a site for projects that the county currently does not have the property to accommodate, a county leader said.


The development of the property, around 30 acres near Nuway Circle in Lenoir, is particularly significant to the county’s industrial growth, said Deborah Murray, executive director of the Economic Development Commission.


Currently, she said, “there are a lot of requests for great projects that we can’t respond to because we don’t have the place, and this would give us one more place.”


The only industrial park in the county, on Industrial Court in southwestern Lenoir, was established by the city of Lenoir in the 1980s, Murray said.


“This is a first for the county,” Murray said.


The site the county is considering has readily available infrastructure and is close to U.S. 321, Murray said.


The Caldwell County Board of Commissioners recently voted to pay $374,000 to purchase the property, but before that can happen engineers must assess the property to determine what kind of facility could be placed there.


While the county once had many empty buildings that could be repurposed to suit new or expanding companies, there is little left today that could be readily used, Murray said. That has blunted one of the county’s most frequently used recruitment tools, building reuse grants from the N.C. Department of Commerce to help companies renovate existing buildings.


“Unfortunately, when you are out of old buildings to repurpose, a building reuse grant can’t help you if you don’t have a building. So what we’ve got to do is create the opportunity where a company can come in and see themselves building their own building in our county,” Murray said.


The county will not construct buildings, but the property is intended to be “shovel-ready” for a company to build there.


“A number of the companies that we have in our county have looked for additional space because they’ve maxed out where they are, and so one of our first options would be to make certain that our existing companies know what would be available there so that their own expansions could be local,” she said.


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

6-3-2021 – Caldwell makes small progress on jobs

Posted on: June 3rd, 2021 by admin


June 3, 2021



By Guy Lucas

Jun 2, 2021


In Caldwell County and most counties across the state, small drops in the number of people without jobs helped local unemployment rates edge down in April.


The number of Caldwell residents with jobs climbed close to what it was just before the COVID-19-related shutdowns of last spring, but the number of filled jobs in the hard-hit manufacturing sector of the overall Hickory region still lags behind pre-pandemic levels.


Caldwell’s unemployment rate declined 0.2 percentage points to 4.5%, barely higher than the statewide median rate of 4.3%, the N.C. Labor and Economic Analysis Division reported. The division also revised down the county’s March unemployment rate to 4.7% from the originally reported 4.8%.


A little more than 6,500 Caldwell residents lost jobs last spring. With the April report, the number of employed is just a few dozen shy of what it had been before the shutodwns, and there are still plenty of job openings, said Deborah Murray, the executive director of the Caldwell County Economic Development Commission.


“The good news is that we are back to pre-pandemic employment,” she said. “On the flip side, any employer will tell you it is difficult to find new workers. We have launched several efforts during the last month to encourage those who aren’t working to consider coming back.”


The labor force — the number of people counted as either working or looking for a job — has been slower to recover than the number of people with jobs. Statewide, the labor force dropped in April, but the number counted as unemployed dropped even more, and that was reflected in most counties, including Catawba County.


In Caldwell and Burke counties, the labor force ticked up just slightly while the number of unemployed dropped by more than 100 each.


“There truly never has been a better time to be looking for a job than today,” Murray said. “Employers have recognized that to land the best employee, especially in certain wage ranges, the competition is fierce — it is an employee’s market. Those looking for work can leverage the things most important to them in landing their next job. Wages have increased, benefits have been modified, schedules in some cases have become more flexible, and certainly signing bonuses and incentives have become more common.”


The EDC post all jobs its staff is aware of throughout the Hickory region on the Caldwell Is Hiring Virtual Job Fair page on Facebook, and the last 30 days of job postings is available on the EDC website,, she said. Hoping to lure more young adults into the labor market, the EDC is trying to encourage new high school graduates to look at the postings and also has created a summer jobs section on its website that will post new jobs through mid-June.


In the Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton metropolitan statistical region, the economic sector with the most job gains from March to April was leisure and hospitality, where jobs increased by about 600. Manufacturing was second with about 300 added jobs.


Although the leisure sector had been the hardest hit statewide by the pandemic and had the most room to rebound, in the Hickory region manufacturing was hit harder.


In March, the number of manufacturing jobs in the Hickory region still was more than 2,000 behind the number that existed before the pandemic-related shutdowns of late March and April 2020, so with April’s gains the number of jobs was still about 1,700 below where it was in early March 2020.


By comparison, in the leisure sector the number of jobs this past March in the region was only about 600 behind the number in early March 2020, so April’s gains put the number close to even.


Murray said manufacturers in particular are eager to find workers to fill vacancies.


“Manufacturers have continued to grow through the pandemic and are anxious to add to their workforce,” she said.

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