Archive for the ‘News section’ Category

2-28-2022 – Caldwell County Closes Another Success Expansion Project

Posted on: February 28th, 2022 by admin No Comments

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February 28, 2022

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Caldwell County recently closed another successful expansion project with the presentation of final incentives to Fairfield Chair executives.  Commissioners Donnie Potter and Jeff Branch presented the North Carolina Building Reuse renovation reimbursement funds and the Caldwell County Local Jobs Incentive at the Fairfield Chair Board of Directors meeting on February 24, 2021.  Accepting the checks were CEO Dixon Mitchell, Chairman John Beall, and CFO Craig Keenan.

 

Keenan thanked the county for its support of industry, particularly in trying economic times.  “We value our partnership with the County and the EDC.  The availability of these funds and the assistance that has come with it are very much appreciated.”

 

The company received $165,900 for plant renovation reimbursements and the creation of 20 new full-time jobs.

 

Fairfield Chair Co. is a major U.S. manufacturer of fine upholstered seating for home, office, hospitality, and healthcare.  The company was established in Lenoir in 1921 and concluded its 100th year in 2021.

 

 

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Pictured from Left to Right are Caldwell County Commissioner Donnie Potter, Fairfield Chair CEO Dixon Mitchell, Fairfield Chair Chairman John Beall, Fairfield Chair CFO Craig Keenan, and Caldwell County Commissioner Jeff Branch.

 

 

Paige Counts

Public Information Officer

Caldwell County

(828) 759-7879

 

2-28-2022 – The Caldwell EDC asks for you input!

Posted on: February 28th, 2022 by admin No Comments

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February 28, 2022

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WPCOG is in the process of developing our Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS), which serves as a strategic blueprint for establishing and maintaining a strong regional economy and improving communities throughout our four county region (Alexander, Burke, Caldwell and Catawba counties).

 

Public input is key to developing the CEDS.

 

Strategies contained in the CEDS are centered on economic development, workforce, infrastructure, and community life. WPCOG is responsible for developing the CEDS every 5 years, and will use this plan to coordinate efforts to improve our region’s economic competitiveness and quality of life. Thank you so much for your help!

 

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/TCQHRMT

2-24-2022 – Blue Ridge Energy flips switch on solar site

Posted on: February 24th, 2022 by admin No Comments

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February 24, 2022

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By DAWN FLEMING DFLEMING@NEWSTOPICNEWS.COM

Feb 23, 2022

 

GRANITE FALLS — Tuesday’s (Feb. 22) rain did not dampen the afternoon’s ceremonial flipping of the switch that signified the completion of the new Brighter Future Solar utility-scale solar energy site located at 4463 Grace Chapel Road in Granite Falls.

 

“It’s exciting to go into the world of solar energy — it’s something that you read about in places like big cities and towns across the United States, but for us — to be able to do it here and make it work — that is what is exciting about seeing it in our community.” said Dr. Caryl Burns, mayor, Granite Falls.

 

The site, which spans 55 acres, is Blue Ridge Energy’s largest solar facility. It is designed to provide zero-carbon electricity and will save Blue Ridge Energy members money.

 

“It is a privilege for Caldwell County to be home to one of our region’s largest solar facilities and to know the impact this facility will make on reducing our carbon footprint and lowering peak rates for Blue Ridge Energy customers,” said county Commissioner Mike LaBrose, vice chairman, on attending the event.

 

The rows of solar panels that spread out across the field will generate, then send 19,000 mega-watt hours of carbon-free electricity annually to a grid, which is enough energy to power 1,600 homes.

 

“We’ve already seen this facility generate over 11 mega watt hours of power on a sunny day.” said Doug Johnson, chief executive officer of Blue Ridge Energy. “So it’s working as designed and working well and we’re excited about that.”

 

Blue Ridge Energy aims to hit net zero carbon emissions by 2050, with the objective to reduce carbon emissions 50% by 2030.

 

The United States Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported in January, 2022 that wholesale electricity prices trended upward in 2021, primarily driven by the rise in natural gas prices. The Brighter Future Solar site will maintain stable affordable rates by regulating wholesale power costs. Over time, stable energy rates will save cooperative members money.

 

“We are excited about this because it fits into our vision of a brighter future for the cooperative and for our members,” said Johnson, as he spoke to the audience about the significance of the completion of the site. “We’re wanting to be involved strategically in doing things to provide affordable, reliable, and sustainable electricity for the future and this meets all three of our standards.”

 

Blue Ridge Energy entered into a 25-year power purchase agreement with the developers and investors including Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) Group, Osaka Gas Company (OGUSA), and Oriden. MHI and OGUSA are owners of the Brighter Future Solar project.

 

“We are so happy, honored, and excited to be able to walk together with you for 25 years,” said Tetsushi Ikuta, president of OGUSA, as he congratulated Blue Ridge Energy on the completion of the project.

 

Gray clouds loomed overhead as representatives from Blue Ridge Energy, MHI, OGUSA, and Oriden stepped up to the larger than life light switch, which was set against the backdrop of rows of solar panels poised to collect the faint rays of the hidden sun.

 

As the representatives ceremoniously flipped the switch to energize the Brighter Future Solar site there was a charge of excitement.

 

“It [decarbonization] starts with brave and passionate people like you — local people and organizations committed to bringing renewable energy to the places where they live, work, study, and spend time together.” said Yoshihiro Shiraiwa, president and chief executive officer of MHI, reflecting on the lessons he said he learned while working on the project. “And it starts in a place like this. Brighter Future Solar is, as we can clearly see here today, a local effort and the energy is being produced in this very community.”

 

 

2-23-2022 – CCC&TI to host meetings on diesel, heavy equipment program

Posted on: February 23rd, 2022 by admin No Comments

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February 23, 2022

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By NEWS-TOPIC STAFF

Feb 22, 2022

 

HUDSON — Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute will host a series of informational meetings in the coming weeks to introduce the community and prospective students to its newest program: Diesel and Heavy Equipment Technology. Attending one of the meetings is a required step for students planning to enroll in the program.

 

Launching in Fall 2022, the 1-year program will prepare students for high-paying, in-demand careers as diesel and heavy equipment technicians. The classes and labs will be offered on the Caldwell Campus in Hudson, as well as on a regional basis in the future through a mobile program that will travel throughout the area.

 

“This will be the only diesel program serving Caldwell, Watauga, Burke, Catawba, McDowell and Alexander counties,” said CCC&TI President Dr. Mark Poarch. “The program will be unique in North Carolina in terms of delivery with a combination of traditional classroom delivery and the mobile training. It will allow us to train students where they are and provide a much-needed talent pipeline for the region.”

 

The program information meetings will be in Room F-115 on the Caldwell Campus in Hudson on the following dates:

 

  • Monday, Feb. 28, 6:30 p.m.
  • Wednesday, March 2, 7:30 p.m.
  • Monday, March 14, 7:30 p.m.

2-22-2022 – U.S. 321 bridge repair could start in March; project will take months

Posted on: February 23rd, 2022 by admin No Comments

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February 22, 2022

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Virginia Annable

Feb 22, 2022

 

Repairs on the U.S. Highway 321 bridge over Lake Hickory could begin as early as March 1.

 

The southbound bridge needs repairs to the steel beams holding it up, according to the N.C. Department of Transportation.

 

The bridge, which links Catawba and Caldwell counties, is scheduled to be replaced when the highway is widened to six lanes. That project is not scheduled to begin for several years. Repairs to the southbound bridge are needed now, NCDOT said.

 

NHM Constructors was contracted for the project for $1.9 million, NCDOT Communications Officer David Uchiyama said.

 

The contractor is able to start work on March 1, but may wait for warmer temperatures to begin, Uchiyama said.

 

The project is scheduled to be complete by Nov. 30 this year.

 

The bridge was built in 1962, according to NCDOT. Over the years the steel beams of the southbound bridge have been weakened and now require regular maintenance. The asphalt overlay placed on the southbound lanes nearly two decades ago is also worn down and often gets potholes.

 

The bridge is safe as is, NCDOT said. Repairs to the steel beams and removal and replacement of old concrete will remove the need for regular maintenance.

 

Highway lanes will be closed during construction, NCDOT said.

2-17-2022 – Grand Manor Receives Rural Economic Development Grant

Posted on: February 18th, 2022 by admin No Comments

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February 17, 2022

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February 17, 2022

 

 

Today, the North Carolina Department of Commerce announced Grand Manor Furniture a recipient of the Rural Economic Development Division Building Reuse grant award.  The $400,000 grant will assist the company with renovations to the vacant Thomasville Furniture plant in Lenoir.

 

 

“We appreciate the partnership and support from the NC Department of Commerce, Caldwell County Commission and EDC and the City of Lenoir. We can’t wait to get started. This will be a great project for everyone,” said Grand Manor President Mike Moore.

 

 

The company will be relocating their operation from its current 85,000-square-foot Harrisburg Drive facility to the former Thomasville Furniture site, where Grand Manor plans to occupy 200,000 square feet of the 800,000-square foot facility. Plans also call for adding 75 workers over the next two years.

 

 

“Grand Manor has done phenomenally well. They are very highly respected not just in our community, but across the country,” EDC Executive Director Deborah Murray told the Caldwell County Board of Commissioners at their January meeting, when the board approved the furniture manufacturer’s local incentive package.

 

 

“I’m thankful that local businesses like Grand Manor can expand and grow and that is what a commissioner loves to be a part of, helping local business grow. It is an honor to be a part of this success story as we continue to grow Caldwell County” said Caldwell County Board of Commissioners’ Chair Randy Church.

 

 

“The City of Lenoir is really excited that Grand Manor continues to grow and that they chose to put the former Thomasville Furniture plant back into operation. What a great story and what a great company,” said City of Lenoir Mayor Joe Gibbons.

 

 

In business in Lenoir for 59 years, Grand Manor manufactures commercial seating products and markets them to hotels, timeshares, and casinos.

 

 

“We are one of the last companies in this country that is vertically integrated. We do everything ourselves. We make our own frames, do our own finishes, do our own shop drawings, do our own upholstery… We import nothing to make our products. Being domestic and vertically integrated gives us an advantage in the hotel industry that no one else has,” explained Moore.

2-10-2022 – GREAT grant helps fund broadband access

Posted on: February 10th, 2022 by admin No Comments

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February 9, 2022

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By CADY DAVIS CDAVIS@NEWSTOPICNEWS.COM

Feb 9, 2022

 

LENOIR — Areas of Caldwell County without high-speed internet service will soon have increased access with the help of state and federal government funds.

 

The first Caldwell County homeowner has recently been connected to high-speed internet as part of the Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) grant project led by Blue Ridge Energy and SkyBest Communications.

 

“[This project] made some serious needs come to light,” said Renee Whitener, director of public relations for Blue Ridge Energy.

 

Senior Vice President and Chief Communications Officer Brad Shields from Blue Ridge Energy explained that Caldwell County received $2.7 million from the state for the GREAT grant, but an additional $3.9 million match was provided from Blue Ridge, SkyBest Communications, and the county.

 

Work on the project began last March, and so far, more than 20 homes have been connected.

 

The GREAT grant, administered by the NC Department of Information Technology’s Division of Broadband and Digital Equity, is a competitive federal grant program that provides funding to private sector broadband providers to deploy last-mile broadband infrastructure to unserved areas of North Carolina. The original GREAT grant program was launched in 2019, and subsequently became a recurring state-funded grant program within the NCDIT Broadband Infrastructure Office.

 

So far, the program has invested $56 million in tax dollars and an additional $35 million in private investment to connect more than 40,000 households and businesses in NC to high-speed internet.

 

According to ncbroadband.gov, $350 million is appropriated from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) for the GREAT program. The current 2021-2022 funding round may award up to $350 million in federal ARPA funding. The application window opened Monday, Jan. 31st, and applications are due Monday, April 4th.

 

Awards can be made within eligible economically-distressed counties in areas unserved with broadband at speeds of 25 Mbps (megabits per second) download and three Mbps upload. Project deployments must provide minimum speeds of 100 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload, scalable to 100 Mbps symmetrical. To put this into perspective, the average cable internet speed is around 10 Mbps.

 

The program encourages partnerships with counties, nonprofits, or other internet service providers. Grants require matching investments from private broadband provider grantees, leveraging funding to deploy infrastructure to households, businesses, and farms in the most rural and remote areas of the state.

 

Gov. Roy Cooper’s office recently announced that qualified internet service providers and electric membership cooperatives can now apply for the recent round of GREAT grants. Up to $350 million will be provided to expand high-speed internet in the state this year, the largest amount yet thanks to the infusion of federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan.

 

“High-speed internet is critical for North Carolinians to be able to work, learn, run a business, or access health care,” Cooper said. “We want all communities in our state to have these opportunities, and this round of grants is an important step toward closing the digital divide, especially in rural areas.”

 

The “digital divide” is defined as the gap between those who have access to technology, the internet, and digital literacy training, and those who do not. It affects all generations, both rural and urban communities, as well as a wide variety of industries and sectors.

 

For example, the “Homework Gap” impacts Caldwell County students who are unable to complete assigned homework that requires internet access.

 

Employers and their workforce are affected when workers are left behind who do not have digital skills and/or access to the internet and computing devices, which also impacts efficiency and competitiveness.

 

With the rise of telehealth services as viable options for contacting health care providers, people without access to broadband and computing devices will lack access to these additional tools.

 

Residents without access to broadband and computing devices cannot access government services online or participate in community activities that require access.

 

U.S. Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) and several of his Senate colleagues recently sent a letter to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) expressing the importance of reliable broadband service for rural America. They requested that federally-funded broadband projects prioritize unserved areas instead of overbuilding existing broadband infrastructure in areas with reliable broadband service.

 

“NTIA has an opportunity to make substantial impact on connecting rural America,” the senators wrote. “However, doing so will require that [NTIA] outline rules that specifically prohibit overbuilding and that set clear criteria to ensure projects targeted at unserved areas are actually prioritized. The regulations and methodology for the distribution of these funds must prioritize projects that are connecting customers and communities to broadband for the first time and avoid projects in areas where reliable broadband is already being provided or where there is an enforceable commitment to build high-speed broadband using federal or state funds.”

 

The senators continued, “Further, [NTIA] must work in concert with other broadband programs to avoid duplication of state or federal government efforts, and [the] department should ensure that all technological options are on the table to bring broadband service to unserved areas. This will ensure that all customers, regardless of location, have the opportunity to benefit from this program.”

 

Blue Ridge Energy plans to continue working with SkyBest to pursue additional state or federal grants for other parts of northern Caldwell County and across Blue Ridge Energy’s service area.

 

To determine eligibility and to sign up, interested residents can visit www.SkyBest.com/CaldwellGrant21 or call SkyBest at 1-800-759-2226.

2-4-2022 – JBS provides jobs, community benefits

Posted on: February 4th, 2022 by admin No Comments

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February 4, 2022

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By CADY DAVIS CDAVIS@NEWSTOPICNEWS.COM

Feb 3, 2022

 

LENOIR — JBS USA Foods brings to the table not only safe, high-quality protein products, but also community investment programs for Caldwell County.

 

JBS is a leading global food company that employs more than 67,000 U.S. team members, producing more than 200 million servings of food for families around the world every day. According to their website (jbsfoodsgroup.com), JBS is the largest beef producer in the U.S., and the second largest pork and poultry producer in the U.S. The name comes from the founder’s initials, José Batista Sobrinho, a rancher in Anápolis, Brazil, who founded JBS S.A. in 1953.

 

JBS has owned and operated a facility in Lenoir at 1450 Homegrown Ct. SW since 2014 when it purchased the plant from Vantage Foods.

 

“They have been a great company since they came to Lenoir and Caldwell County,” said Lenoir Mayor Joe Gibbons. “[They] have always partnered with nonprofit and local groups to help the community in so many ways. We’re honored to have them, honored that they want to give back and be part of making Lenoir and Caldwell County a better place to live, work, and play.”

 

The JBS Lenoir plant specializes in preparing retail-ready foods, including beef and pork products, for leading grocery stores such as Food Lion, Amazon/Whole Foods, and Stop and Shop, among others. Right now, the plant has 274 employees with starting pay at $17 per hour. They are currently hiring for a variety of different positions, primarily in operational roles at the facility.

 

“JBS Lenoir produces more than 1 million pounds of food per week, and we are proud to provide great career opportunities to our team members and support the growth of our community,” said Shannan Lowman, general manager for JBS Lenoir.

 

The company also touts its community investments in Caldwell County through programs such as Better Futures, Hometown Strong, and the Helping Hands Clinic.

 

The Better Futures program offers JBS employees and their child dependents the opportunity to pursue higher education for associate degrees and trade certificates at community and technological colleges tuition free.

 

Tuition will be paid for by JBS USA and one of their many brands, Pilgrim’s Chicken. Students can expect to pay no more than $500 per year for general fees and/or books. The Better Futures program is tax-free for employees, but may not be tax-free for dependent children.

 

So far, two employees and two child dependents in Lenoir have taken advantage of the company’s Better Futures program for tuition-free community college.

 

North Carolina Hometown Strong projects invest in the educational, recreational, and social service infrastructures that a community needs.

 

For example, in 2020, JBS donated more than 1.9 million (4 oz.) servings of food across the state.

 

JBS also provides assistance to Caldwell County Schools. JBS investment provided 300 hotspots to families in need, which has had a tremendous impact on children in Caldwell County, especially during the pandemic and in the event of inclement weather. Government agencies were also able to assist in providing free internet service that is still being used today.

 

With the Helping Hands Clinic project, JBS invested $50,000 to help clinics overcome COVID-19 budgetary burdens by providing primary care services, chronic disease management, and education to uninsured patients.

 

Gibbons’s wife, Becky Gibbons, serves on the Helping Hands board.

 

“We certainly appreciate [JBS’s support] very much,” the mayor said.

 

The Helping Hands Clinic has partnered with Caldwell UNC Health, Caldwell Health Department, West Caldwell Health Council, and the NC Association of Free and Charitable Clinics to administer this program.

 

Moreover, JBS supports several local nonprofit organizations in Caldwell County, such as Yokefellow, as well as other food pantries, shelters, churches, and more.

 

To learn more, visit jbsfoodsgroup.com/our-purpose/bringing-more-to-the-table.

 

Despite the company’s contributions to the local community, JBS has been the target of poor publicity on both a national and global scale.

 

In recent days President Joe Biden has been critical of the country’s largest meat producers: JBS, Cargill, Tyson Foods and National Beef Packing. The president accused the four companies of scoring record profits during the pandemic while also contributing to the inflation by raising prices on consumers.

 

Biden recently announced plans for new rules and $1 billion in funding for independent meat processors and ranchers in an effort to combat what he calls a lack of “meaningful competition” in the meat sector.

 

Last summer, JBS became the victim of a cyberattack believed to have originated in Russia. Those attacks disrupted operations.

 

2-2-2022 – Unemployment rate drops in metro area

Posted on: February 2nd, 2022 by admin No Comments

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February 2, 2022

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By DAWN FLEMING DFLEMING@NEWSTOPICNEWS.COM

Jan 31, 2022

 

The Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton (HLM) metropolitan area non-seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for the month of Nov., 2021 was 3.1%.

 

This is a drop in HLM’s previous unemployment rate of 3.4%, which was reported a month earlier.

 

HLM metro area’s November unemployment rate is lower than the state’s average rate of 3.9% rate for the same time period.

 

There are approximately 176,284 individuals that comprise the HLM metro area’s non-seasonally adjusted labor force; of those individuals, 170,815 were employed, and 5,469 were unemployed.

 

Data are fragments of a larger complex puzzle. Figures may not capture factors such as the number of individuals who may not actively be seeking employment, those whose qualifications and skills sets do not match with companies that are recruiting, or those who may or may not have returned to pre-existing positions post COVID mandated quarantine for what the government deemed as non-essential jobs.

 

Major industries in the HLM metro area that saw increases in the number of jobs between November and December (2021) were: manufacturing, 700 jobs; trade/transportation/and utilities, 700 jobs; leisure/hospitality services, 400 jobs; and professional and business services, 300 jobs.

 

Manufacturing businesses in the area are actively recruiting new employees by offering on-the-job training, sign-on packages, employee benefit programs, and opportunities for professional growth.

 

“We currently have over 70 job openings of all skill sets — in the corporate office, facilities and plants there is a wide range of jobs,” said William Howard, vice president, Bernhardt Furniture Company. “We are striving every day to do what we can to get people to come and work with us.”

 

 

Local business and industries also participate and host job fairs. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center located at 313 Greenhaven Dr. N.W is hosting a JBS, Lenoir, Inc. job fair on Feb. 15 from 1 p.m. — 4 p.m.

 

Technical experience may be desired, but is not always required. Some technical skills can be developed through on the job training.

 

Spokespersons with local manufacturing companies praised the efforts of Caldwell County Schools and Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute for working to develop career and technical skills by offering relevant programs and training opportunities to their students.

 

Companies are looking to hire individuals with a willingness to work; a dedication to good work ethics such as being willing to come to work every day, on time and being ready to work, and a desire to do a good job. Another desirable trait is a willingness to learn and grow.

 

Local companies have expressed that they value their employees and have a desire to help them advance within the company.

 

“We are a great place to work, we value our employees and we have work available. The jobs are here. If someone wants to come in on an entry level, we have development programs,” said Krista Bridgwood, human resource manager, Bemis Manufacturing Company. “There is plenty of opportunity for growth and someone can carve out a career at our facility.”

 

Durable jobs that offer security are currently available in Lenoir, and surrounding areas.

 

“We have been in business for 133 years. It is one of the oldest furniture companies in the country and it is still owned and managed by the original family and we take a lot of pride in that,” Howard said of Bernhardt. “We have a lot of wonderful good employees; we need more. We are a good place to work.”

2-1-2022 FREE N-95 masks available in Caldwell County

Posted on: February 1st, 2022 by admin No Comments

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February 1, 2022

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