Archive for the ‘News section’ Category

9-15-2021 – Small Business Week runs through Sunday

Posted on: September 15th, 2021 by admin


September 15, 2021





RALEIGH – Thanks to a proclamation by Gov. Roy Cooper, this week marks Small Business Week.


Governor Roy Cooper proclaimed Sept. 12-19, 2021, as Small Business Week to highlight the importance of small, independent businesses and entrepreneurship to North Carolina’s economy.


“As the backbone of our economy, small business owners and entrepreneurs are crucial pillars to North Carolina’s success,” Cooper said. “With much dedication even before the pandemic, the small business community has been the center of our economic prosperity from the mountains to the coast.”


Small Business Week celebrates the remarkable entrepreneurial spirit of North Carolina small businesses as they navigate the unprecedented challenges of a global pandemic while continuing to support their employees and local communities. Pre-pandemic, the state’s 934,000 small businesses accounted for 99 percent of all North Carolina employers with the pandemic spurring a record-breaking number of business formations.


“North Carolina’s diverse small businesses and innovative startups are the heart and soul of their communities as job creators and community builders,” N.C. Commerce Secretary Machelle Baker Sanders said. “Beyond our local communities, small businesses are significant contributors to North Carolina’s trade industry and global manufacturing reputation as they generate more than $29 billion in total exports. We are grateful for their enthusiasm and resilience and we remain committed to supporting their growth and success.”


Collaboratively, public agencies, education institutions and private-sector organizations assist small businesses with growth strategies and job creation by providing workforce training, business mentoring, financial assistance, research, technical assistance, and export services.


North Carolina provides many services to small businesses through NCWorks, community college small business centers, the N.C. Small Business and Technology Development Center, SCORE, the Veterans Business Outreach Center, the Rural Center and a toll-free information and referral service known as the Small Business Advisors hotline.

9-10-2021 – NCDOT planning to repair 321 southbound bridge

Posted on: September 10th, 2021 by admin


September 10, 2021




Sep 9, 2021


Drivers who regularly travel from Caldwell County into Hickory will face a daily, long-running headache next spring as work begins to make structural repairs to the bridge that carries the southbound lanes of U.S. 321 over Lake Hickory.


Plans to widen U.S. 321 between Hickory and Lenoir call for eventually replacing the bridge entirely, but before that will happen repairs are needed to keep the bridge operating safely, the N.C. Department of Transportation said.


The bridge, built in 1962, was last inspected in April and was deemed structurally deficient due to excessive corrosion to the steel support beams and because of potholes, and it was deemed functionally obsolete due to the narrowness of the bridge.


Tim Sherrill, a preservation and repair engineer with the NCDOT Structures Management Unit, said the repairs include mending excessive corrosion of the steel metal beams due to years of water, salt and brine, and repairing asphalt corrosions and potholes along the deck of the bridge.


“I know ‘structurally deficient’ and ‘functionally obsolete’ sounds very scary. Those are just terms based on federal guidelines. It does not mean that the bridge is not safe, we just need improvements,” Sherrill said.


The project is being designed to contract out in December, Sherrill said.


Plans on how to direct traffic are still in development, he said.


“It’s not final but we’re trying to see about doing some of the work at night,” he said. “At times, we may shift all traffic to a two-lane road on the northbound bridge, and at times we may close down just one lane on the southbound side.”


The NCDOT anticipates completing the repairs next summer.


Reporter Candice Simmons can be reached at (828)610-8721

9-7-2021 – COVID-19 surge feeds furniture headache

Posted on: September 7th, 2021 by admin


September 7, 2021



By Guy Lucas

Sep 6, 2021


Just as furniture manufacturers began to make some inroads in reducing backlogged orders, surges in COVID-19 overseas, particularly in Asia, have further restricted some already tight supply chains, an industry observer reports.


New orders continue a year-long boom, with orders in June up 7% over June 2020 — which itself was a big boom month when consumers began a spending spree after the spring 2020 business lockdowns, according to the latest Furniture Insights report from the Smith Leonard consulting and accounting firm in High Point.


“We had thought that we would probably see some declines starting in June, which would not be bad, but might ‘feel’ not so good, but the results were positive instead,” the report said. “The results were not up for all, but some 66% of the participants reported increases over June 2020.”


That said, business was up so much in the second half of 2020 that Smith Leonard expects it will be hard to beat every month for the rest of the year.


Backlogged orders in June were 153% above June 2020’s levels, but shipments showed signs of picking up — before the highly contagious COVID-19 delta variant surged, the report said.


“As we write this, COVID cases are on the rise again and some countries have either shut down or have severely restricted production and shipping,” the report said. “Several of the Asian countries have seen significantly more cases, with Vietnam hit very hard. Ho Chi Minh City has significantly tightened their restriction, which has yielded significant reductions in production.”


The increase in COVID-19 cases in the U.S. also appeared to weaken consumer confidence, at least in the short term, the report said.


“Spending intentions for homes, autos, and major appliances all cooled somewhat; however, the percentage of consumers intending to take a vacation in the next six months continued to climb,” it said. “While the resurgence of COVID-19 and inflation concerns have dampened confidence, it is too soon to conclude this decline will result in consumers significantly curtailing their spending in the months ahead.”


9-1-2021 – Local economy humming along

Posted on: September 1st, 2021 by admin


September 1, 2021



By Guy Lucas

Sep 1, 2021


Caldwell County’s economy continued improving in July with one of the largest drops in unemployment in the state as the number of residents with jobs closes in on pre-pandemic levels.


The local unemployment rate dropped by a half a percentage point to 4.6%, according to the N.C. Labor and Economic Analysis Division. Although 99 of the state’s 100 counties saw their unemployment rate drop in July, only 11 others had a drop of a half percentage point or more.


That helped Caldwell move to the very middle, tied with Franklin and Mecklenburg counties for the 51st lowest unemployment rate.


But in terms of the percentage rate, Caldwell is much closer to the best than the worst: Avery County, Caldwell’s northwestern neighbor, had the state’s lowest unemployment rate at 3.5%, while Scotland County in the southeastern part of the state had the highest at 9.1%.


The number of Caldwell residents with jobs in July was about 2,100 higher than in July 2020, when the county was still early in its recovery from the COVID-19 shutdowns, and about 500 short of the number in July 2019, said Taylor Dellinger, a data analyst with the Western Piedmont Council of Governments. That’s about the same as the difference in the workforce from July 2019 to July 2021.


The question is whether most of those are staying out of work because of federally enhanced unemployment benefits, which will expire this month, or because of other reasons, he said.


Burke and Catawba counties both saw a drop of 0.4 percentage points in their unemployment rate, to 4.2% in Burke and 4.3% in Catawba.


The overall Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton metropolitan statistical area’s unemployment rate of 4.3% remained fifth lowest among the state’s 15 metro areas.


In other good news for the region’s economy, the Catawba Economic Development Commission announced Wednesday that Everything Attachments, a manufacturer of farm implements and tractor attachments, plans to spend at least $20 million to expand its manufacturing facility in Conover, creating nearly 150 new jobs over the next five years. Salaries for the new employees will vary by position and experience, but the company offers a minimum wage of $30 an hour, the announcement said.


Also, the Catawba Valley Association of Realtors reported Wednesday that demand for housing across the Hickory region, including Caldwell County, continues to exceed supply. The average selling price for a house in Caldwell in July was $226,434, up 10.6 percent from July 2020, though sales of higher-priced houses accounted for a big part of the jump. The median sales price, which is the point where half of all the houses sold are higher and half are lower, was $188,000, 3.4% higher than in July 2020.

8-30-2021 – Furniture’s biggest obstacle is image

Posted on: August 30th, 2021 by admin


August 30, 2021



By Guy Lucas

Aug 27, 2021


Business is booming for McCreary Modern, as it is for most other furniture companies, but it could be even better, the company’s president said.


The company could expand by at least 10%, maybe 20%, Rick Coffey said, if not for one giant obstacle: people.


Or, more specifically, the lack of people applying to fill all the jobs the company needs in order to meet the huge demand it is facing.


“I could hire 100 people tomorrow,” Coffey said. “Demand has never been higher.”


It’s a common refrain among the Hickory region’s furniture manufacturers, said Taylor Dellinger, a data analyst at the Western Piedmont Council of Governments.


While manufacturers nationwide have reported they need more workers than they can find, the problem is more acute for this region’s furniture makers, Dellinger said.


In spring 2020, the COVID-19-related business shutdowns in the U.S. and overseas caused the Hickory region to lose 7,800 of its 41,500 manufacturing jobs, he said. In June 2021, the region had regained all but about 1,000 of those jobs — but furniture by itself more than accounts for the entire shortfall.


The furniture industry had about 14,400 jobs in the region before the pandemic, and by June 2021 it was back to only about 13,000, Dellinger said.


Coffey said that officials at McCreary, as at other companies, have tried everything they can think of to try to lure more workers: The company offers $2,500 signing bonuses for skilled workers, $2,500 finder’s fees for any employee who recruits a skilled worker, $1,000 bonuses and finder’s fees for entry-level workers requiring training, generous and progressive benefits, an in-house pharmacy and nurse practitioners, and an unlimited company match of 25% of each employee’s 401(k) contributions, to name a few, as well as increased pay — even entry-level pay starts at $15 an hour.


The company also reaches out through any channel possible, including Twitter and Instagram, to publicize its job openings, pay and benefits.


And yet, despite all that, hiring people is the hardest Coffey has ever experienced in more than 40 years in the business. Even when the unemployment rate was around 3% it was easier to find workers.


Dellinger said the difficulty stems in part from the same things affecting other industries — a lack of child care options keeps some out of the workforce, and some remain fearful of COVID-19. Enhanced unemployment benefits have kept some workers at home, but it’s not a major factor for the industry, he said.


Demographics also is a factor: The portion of the region’s population that has the sought-after skills is aging, and many decided to retire after the Great Recession delivered the latest of a series of economic blows to the industry.


But a big factor is that many younger workers simply are reluctant to enter the furniture industry, in part because of its past waves of layoffs from moving jobs overseas and from recessions, and in part because many have heard older relatives talk negatively about factory work they experienced, Dellinger said. A large majority of the area’s high school students know someone who used to work in furniture, he said.


Coffey agreed the industry suffers from a perception problem among younger workers.


“There’s a bad perception this is the same furniture industry that left Caldwell County and Catawba County in the late ’80s and ’90s,” Coffey said. “It’s not your dad’s old company.”


The industry is highly automated now and offers a much improved work environment. Upholstery remains a very hands-on kind of work that is difficult to entirely automate, but in many ways furniture factoring today is not like what workers experienced 20 years ago, Coffey said.


Coffey’s company, like the others, has been hammering that message. So far, it isn’t breaking through to enough workers.

8-27-2021 – Caldwell County Schools see enrollment increase

Posted on: August 27th, 2021 by admin


August 27, 2021



By Carmen Boone

Aug 26, 2021


For this year, at least, the Caldwell County Schools have seen an increase in enrollment — just the second time that has happened since a long-term slide in enrollment began nearly 15 years ago.


But local officials hope it is the beginning of a trend.


On the first day of classes, 11,082 students were enrolled, said Libby Brown, community services director for the Caldwell County Schools. In 2020, the number was 10,792.


But the 2020 number may have been depressed by pandemic-related factors, including the uncertainty of in-person attendance and how COVID-19 was trending. Except for last year, the current enrollment is the lowest in more than 20 years.


According to enrollment statistics available on the Caldwell County Schools’ website, enrollment reached its peak in the 2007-08 school year, when 13,116 students were in school across the district. Since then, however, enrollment decreased every school year except for 2015-16, when enrollment went up by 43 students, until this year. At the start of the 2019-20 year, before anyone had heard of COVID-19, enrollment was 11,241.


“Progressively, we’ve seen enrollment decreasing within that time frame,” Brown said. “So we’ve kind of turned that corner with these higher numbers this year.”


One of the reasons local government officials have cited in the past for the long-term drop in enrollment was the sharp economic shock of the Great Recession. The recession was in 2008, but its effects rolled out and deepened over several years, driving local unemployment to 13% in 2012 — and many young families left the region seeking better working opportunities.


Brown said that Caldwell County’s economy, which has diversified since the recession and has been surging in recent years, now appears to be spurring an increase in young families again. People are coming to Caldwell County from as far away as California and New York.


“Families are finding jobs here. Most of the families moving here have school-age children,” Brown said. “There is job availability in this county and affordable living costs.”


Superintendent Don Phipps said in a press release he is excited to see numbers finally going back up again.


“Our numbers are up, which indicates that we’ve turned the corner from the lag in enrollment experienced over the last several years,” he said. “We are enthusiastic to see more students entering public schools and confident that our students will be provided rigorous academic opportunities in a safe, caring learning environment.”


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

8-25-2021 – CCC&TI welcomes first apprenticeship student

Posted on: August 25th, 2021 by admin


August 25, 2021



By Carmen Boone

Aug 24, 2021


Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute launched its new apprenticeship program on Tuesday.


Apprenticeship Caldwell is a program that provides students with on-the-job experience while they are still taking classes.


To celebrate the launch, CCC&TI held a signing ceremony where Taylor Ray Hood signed on to be an apprentice at pharmacuetical maker Exela Pharma Sciences in Lenoir, making him the first student participating in the program.


“I wanted to work at Exela to begin with,” Hood said. “I’m excited just being here.”


Beni Kincaid, Exela’s director of human resources said, “We picked a really good one. Having people coming in with a taste (of the job) is beneficial. The sky is the limit now.”


Apprenticeship Caldwell is an amazing opportunity for students, said Rick Shew, director for continuing education and workforce development at CCC&TI, who is heading the program.


“A lot of our industries are struggling to find employees, especially those with the skill sets they need. This is a way of connecting students with those companies early on, so they can begin building those skill sets,” he said.


CCC&TI President Mark Poarch told Hood, “This is going to pave the way for your success and your future.”


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

8-23-2021 – Fairfield celebrates 100 years in Caldwell

Posted on: August 23rd, 2021 by admin


August 23, 2021




Aug 20, 2021 Updated Aug 20, 2021


The Great Depression, the 2008 Great Recession and a pandemic that doesn’t seem to end are all on the list of what Fairfield Chair Company has weathered in its 100 years in Caldwell County.


The company’s longstanding presence and atmosphere have led to multiple generations working for Fairfield, said Michael Graybeal, manager of Fairfield Plant #2, as he made his rounds on the factory floor, encouraging banter.


“We like to keep it fun around here. We try to have a good time while still getting things done,” he said.


Many employees, such as Jody Baldwin, have familial ties to the factory.


“My favorite memory is being able to work with my grandma, Hallie Childress, who worked for Fairfield for over 30 years,” Baldwin said.


Fairfield Chair was established in 1921 by W.J. Lenoir, James Harper Beall and E.F. Allan in Lenoir. The company has two plants in Caldwell County and a showroom in High Point. The company is celebrating its centennial year.


Graybeal said the company has stood the test of time partly thanks to forward thinking and aggressive problem-solving skills. For instance, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, like many furniture companies it has had trouble getting its usual shipments of foam. Instead of letting orders pile up and laying off workers, Fairfield started ordering bulk quantities of filler material and cutting them within the warehouse, he said.


Graybeal said the idea that Fairfield is a family might be the other half of the equation for its success.


John Thomson, who works in the IT department, agreed.


“In the 14 years I have been at Fairfield, I have been a part of two major changes. In 2008, furniture was hit hard. We changed gears and flipped from retail to senior living and contracted overnight to keep our people working and never looked back. Then in 2020 we converted to doing PPE gowns and masks,” he said. “Always looking for ways to keep our Fairfield family working.”


The CEO of Fairfield, Dixon Mitchell, said the company’s family mentality goes beyond the factory doors and into the community, often helping various Caldwell County charities and school systems.


“The Beall family has always been so supportive of the community. Their homestead was built in 1825 so they were really a founding force in the community, making them good stewards in understanding the value of taking care of our people.” Dixon said.


Thomson’s fondest time with the company illustrates this notion.


“For the last 14 years Fairfield has allowed my wife, also a 20-year Fairfield employee, and I to raise money to buy gifts for Valmead and West Lenoir (elementary school students). I dress as Santa and deliver a gift to each child,” he said.


Retired plant manager Dennis Bell said community work was always part of the company’s focus during the 51 years he worked there.


“I feel Fairfield Chair has always been interested in being a help to Caldwell County. They have partnered with local schools and other charities. Our employees have always been willing to give and serve the community,” he said.


Reporter Candice Simmons can be reached at (828)610-8721

8-18-2021 – CCC&TI receives state grant for student aid

Posted on: August 18th, 2021 by admin


August 18, 2021



By Carmen Boone

Aug 18, 2021 Updated Aug 18, 2021


A new scholarship program aims to encourage people who have interrupted their college education to go back to school.


The Longleaf Complete Grant is part of the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) fund that allocated $137.8 million to community colleges in North Carolina for COVID-19 relief.


With the hardships that many students faced during the pandemic, a number of students dropped out of college plans due to financial struggles, said CCC&TI President Mark Poarch.


“This (grant) is an incentive to re-engage individuals in higher education,” he said. “It’s to get folks re-enrolled to move them toward completion and put them out into the workforce.”


To be eligible, students must be North Carolina residents and have completed at least 30 credit hours but not yet have a degree.


The state’s community colleges will have from fall of 2021 to Sept. 30, 2023, to award the funds.


Poarch said that 140 CCC&TI students who were enrolled in the spring of 2020 and had completed 30 credit hours dropped out.


“We are trying to benefit students negatively impacted (by the pandemic),” he said. “This (grant) is a tool to help remove financial barriers and re-engage students.”


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



8-17-2021 – CCC&TI nursing program ranks seventh in state

Posted on: August 17th, 2021 by admin


August 17, 2021



By Carmen Boone

Aug 16, 2021


Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute’s licensed practical nursing program is ranked seventh in the state, according to a nursing website., which provides resources for students studying nursing, ranks CCC&TI’s LPN program as seventh out of a total of 39 in the state, including at four-year universities.


Rankings are determined by a weighted scoring system that combines pass/fail rates, the number of students who graduate and how long the program has been around, said April Cline, the director of nursing programs at CCC&TI.


She said the data used is from the past five years. The college has only had the LPN program available for two years, but the two graduating classes both had 100% pass rates, Cline said.


Practical nursing is a one-year course that runs from January to December. The course first was offered in 2019, Cline said. The graduating class that year had eight students. In 2020, the graduating class had 18 students. All of the students (from both classes) were offered jobs before graduating, Cline added.


“To get number seven after just two graduating classes is something to be proud of,” she said.


Cline said that the North Carolina Board of Nursing is allowing CCC&TI to offer 40 seats to students for the licensed practical nursing program across both the Caldwell and Watauga campuses in 2022.


“We hope to grow the program,” she said. “(The goal is) just letting more people know.”


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


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