By Susan Shinn Poe
you’re hungry for good food, Davidson County is the place to go
because it’s home to some of the South’s best barbecue
restaurants. And Davidson County also is where you should travel if
your soul craves great art. It’s where renowned artist Bob
Timberlake was reared and still creates impressive works. But nowadays
the county also is the place to go to find a capable workforce and a
pro-growth business climate.
Located in the center of North Carolina’s famed furniture
manufacturing region — its two largest towns, Lexington and
Thomasville, are synonymous with high-quality home furnishings
—Davidson County sits in the heart of North Carolina’s booming
Piedmont region. And while the county still retains many small-town
Southern charms and traditions, business growth is spilling in from
nearby metro areas and around the world.
The Triad cities of Winston-Salem, Greensboro and High Point are less
than a half-hour away. Charlotte and its national banking center are
about an hour’s drive away. And Raleigh’s a little less than twice
“The proximity of Davidson County in the Triad is very
valuable,” says Doug Croft, president of the Thomasville Chamber of
Commerce. “The proximity of Davidson County in the center of the
state is very valuable.”
“We are the linchpin that holds Charlotte and the Piedmont Triad
together,” adds Jim Simeon, executive director of the Lexington Area
Chamber of Commerce. “We have a central location. We have great
roads. Interstate 85 is eight lanes and U.S. 52 is built to interstate
standards. We have rail from two different directions — High Point
and Winston-Salem — which is unique.”
Davidson County, the state’s 10th largest county spanning nearly 568
square miles, is a place where family-owned businesses prosper, health
care is booming and international businesses have found a home.
The county has long been known for its furniture industry. Lexington
Home Brands and Thomasville Furniture Industries are the county’s
top two employers, respectively. In 2001, Lexington Home Brands
celebrated its 100th anniversary.
The county’s reputation as an ideal place to live and work has
spread beyond the United States. There are now more than a dozen
international companies within the county’s borders, and their
arrival has helped spur growth in health care — Lexington Memorial
Hospital and the Thomasville Medical Center are spending more than $23
million to renovate and expand their facilities and services.
The county also serves as a small financial center and is headquarters
to Lexington State Bank in Lexington and Bank of North Carolina in
LSB, the state’s 10th-largest bank, celebrated its 50th anniversary
in 1999. The year 2001 saw expansion into Clemmons, and the bank’s
24th branch is due to open in Tyro, a small town east of Lexington,
LSB holds one-third of the market share in Davidson County.
“Our challenge is to continue to grow the market and look for new
markets to serve,” says LSB President Bob Lowe. “We think we have
a niche, and serve as a community institution, as evidenced by the
growing market share we have.”
Bank of North Carolina celebrated its 20th anniversary last Dec. 3. It
has four offices: two in Thomasville, one in Archdale and one in
“We felt that there was a need for a hometown bank in
Thomasville,” says Swope Montgomery, Bank of North Carolina’s
president and CEO. “The organizers felt that the people in
Thomasville were receptive and interested in starting a new business,
and this feeling has been confirmed. It’s been a good success for
A 13,000 square-foot-operations center was completed last year. A
permanent office location on National Highway in Thomasville is slated
for spring completion.
“We’re always looking at opportunities to expand and get into new
markets,” Montgomery says.
One of the county’s oldest businesses is Lexcom, which began life as
Lexington Telephone Company on Oct. 29, 1896. It remains an
independent telephone company.
The telecommunications company now offers local and long-distance
telephone service, along with wireless, cable and Internet services,
according to Richard Reese, president and chairman.
“Things have changed in this business and we have to change with
it,” he says.
The "Big Chair" on the square in downtown Thomasville
symbolizes the city's rich history as a furniture manufacturing
Family Flavor in Lexington
While there are plenty of incentives to attract newcomers, those same
incentives have led many never to stray too far or too long from home.
Conrad and Hinkle, located on the square in downtown Lexington since
1919, is a third-generation grocery store where you can still buy
fresh produce and have your meats cut to order. Folks come from as far
away as Charlotte and Raleigh for the pimento cheese.
Another tradition that the Hinkle boys — Lee, Jimbo and Dave —
carry on is delivering groceries to longtime customers who aren’t
able to come in to shop.
“Small stores like this used to be on every corner,” Lee Hinkle
says. “I give credit to my dad (a former mayor of Lexington) for
keeping the store going. We have a niche. Daddy knew how much it meant
to my granddaddy, and I imagine that’s what’ll happen with me and
Two car dealerships have longtime ties to Lexington.
Lexington Motor Co., founded in 1948, is in its third generation of
family leadership. Meredith Smith is the general manager, one of a
growing number of women in that position. Founded in 1921, Davis
Chevrolet is the oldest family-owned Chevrolet dealership in the
“We’re actually in our fifth generation, if you count my son,
Hunter,” says Lee Davis, general manager. “He mows the lawn and
picks up the trash.”
Lanier Hardware is a downtown institution. Founded in 1940 by Ardell
Lanier, the store now employs Lanier’s children and grandchildren,
with Mr. Lanier still at the helm each day. Stop by on a late
afternoon or Saturday and you might even see a great-grandchild or
“If we don’t make it, you don’t need it,” is the store’s
The Army-Navy Store on Main Street began life as a military surplus
store just after World War II. When it later became a clothing store,
owner Frankie Nance, whose father founded the store, decided to keep
“I’ve changed over the years, too,” Nance says, “but I
haven’t changed my name.”
Turlington and Co., which originally opened in 1946 and was purchased
in 1954 by W.H. Turlington, employs 34 people and has clients all over
the Southeast. G.W. Mountcastle Insurance Agency, which was founded in
1890 and employs 24 people, primarily conducts its business in
Joe Sink went to work at The Dispatch, the Lexington newspaper that
publishes on Monday through Saturday afternoons, because it was a
family business. He was the third — and final — generation of
Sinks to work there. He retired at the end of the year after having
served as publisher for the past 28 years.
“There’s been a Sink here since 1885,” Sink notes. “Pretty
obviously, I liked the work. I really loved working for The New York
Times (the company that owns The Dispatch). They gave me so many
opportunities to do things I probably wouldn’t have done.”
Traveling to national newspaper conventions all over the country gave
Sink the travel bug. Thanks to his frequent-flier points, he’s been
to Australia, France and Italy.
But no matter where he goes, he’s always glad to come home.
“I never wanted to leave because it’s my hometown,” he says.
“I’ve had the best of both worlds by being here. I still play golf
with people I played golf with 30 years ago.”
Thanks to a lot of hard work by a lot of people, uptown Lexington
still maintains a vibrant character that many communities have lost in
their downtown districts.
Uptown Lexington boasts a 96 percent occupancy rate with 57 retailers
out of 230 businesses, according to Liz Parham, executive director of
In fall 2001, about eight businesses opened or expanded in the uptown
area, Parham says.
The revitalization began in 1994, when Lexington joined the National
Main Street program. Through the National Trust for Historic
Preservation, this program has been working with communities across
the nation since 1980 to revitalize their historic or traditional
commercial areas. According to its web site, the Main Street approach
was developed to save historic commercial architecture. It has become
a powerful economic development tool as well.
Customer service is the hallmark of uptown businesses, Parham notes.
“The ones who excel are the ones who find niche markets in a variety
of places,” she says.
One of Parham’s dreams is to see full occupancy on the second floors
in the form of apartments — much like what is occurring in downtown
“We haven’t quite gotten there yet, but we will,” she says.
Growth in Thomasville & Beyond
Although Lexington is the county seat of Davidson County, the
populations of Lexington and Thomasville are virtually the same.
According to 2000 census figures, 147,246 call Davidson County home,
with 19,953 people living within the Lexington city limits and 19,788
living within the Thomasville city limits.
Thomasville is enjoying growth in the southern part of town, with
refurbishment and revitalization downtown, according to Croft,
president of the chamber.
Croft notes that lampposts have been installed downtown through
private donations; Thomasville’s historic Big Chair also was
“It’s a significant monument to the furniture industry and our
heritage,” he says.
Through such refurbishment, Thomasville is shaping its downtown into a
commons area with all the public improvements. The downtown is the
locale for the Everybody’s Day Festival. The event, which started in
1908, is North Carolina’s oldest festival and takes place the last
Saturday in September. Thomasville is celebrating its 150th
anniversary this year, and Croft calls the sesquicentennial
celebration a major project.
Thomasville is seeing good growth in its retail area, Croft says. A
local outlet of Peebles, a national clothing chain opened in 2000, and
a new Wal-Mart shopping center, with 14 adjacent store sites, is
slated to open in spring.
“We’re seeing a lot more retail investors looking at our
community,” Croft says. “I’ve been here 13 years and I saw it
coming and now it’s really happening. Retail folks recognize that
we’re an underserved community. Our proximity to larger communities
is a blessing, but from a retail standpoint, it’s a challenge.”
In economic development countywide, the focus is on diversification
from traditional industries such as furniture and textiles, says Ed
Church executive director of the Davidson County Economic Development
“There’s quite a bit of investment coming in geared toward health
care,” Church notes, pointing to the two hospital projects.
Old Dominion, a freight carrier, is moving its corporate headquarters
to Davidson County, taking over the Bassett building in Thomasville.
Kimberly-Clark is vying with four other locations for a $50 million
expansion project for its Lexington mill. The Lexington mill makes
non-woven plastics for Huggies disposable diapers and the health
Located in southern Davidson County, the town of Denton boasts
small-town appeal with convenience to larger areas.
Each July, Denton holds the Southeast Old Thresher’s Reunion, which
draws up to 75,000 people to the area over several days of activities.
Held at Denton Farm Park, the festival celebrates the history of farm
machines and farm life with displays of antique, steam and gas
The northern end of the county has seen substantial growth during the
past several years, with many homes and businesses being established.
Artist Dempsey Essick has his gallery in Welcome. Richard Childress
Racing, with team shops, offices and a museum, some of it dedicated to
the late Dale Earnhardt, is based here. A 60,000-square-foot addition
is in the works.
“Richard was born and raised here and he loves this area,” says
Dave Hart, RCR’s director of communications. “It was just a
Childress started with NASCAR in 1969, and wanted to have his shop
close to home, Hart says. “As the expansion took place, it just made
sense to stay in the area he was most familiar with,” he adds.
While RCR was the first Winston Cup team to locate in Davidson County,
it wasn’t the last. Three others have followed, providing a boost to
area auto parts and supplies stores.
Another draw for Davidson County — especially in recent years — is
High Rock Lake. Local families first began building cabins at High
Rock Reservoir in the 1940s. Now, there are veritable “mansions,”
according to Lonnie Davis Jr., whose family reportedly built the first
cabin at High Rock in 1946.
In 1999, the Davis and Timberlake families donated 16 acres in their
cove to the Land Trust for Central North Carolina.
Alcoa Power Generating Inc., which owns most of the shoreline on the
reservoirs, has come up with a shoreline management plan that, while
controversial, addresses the environmental aspects of growth.
Health Care Facilities Expand
Thanks to two local hospitals, Lexington Memorial Hospital and
Thomasville Medical Center, residents need not leave the county to
take advantage of state-of-the-art medical procedures and equipment.
LMH is in the midst of a $12.3 million expansion project that will add
64,000 square feet of new and renovated space. The four-phase project
should be completed by June. The expansion includes a new outpatient
center, new intensive care unit, new consolidated labor, delivery
recovery and postpartum unit and administrative complex.
When the hospital was built in 1979 only about 4 percent of its
procedures was on an outpatient basis. Today, outpatient procedures
account for 55 percent of its revenues, according to John Cashion,
The 96-bed hospital will now be more efficient and more user-friendly
for the public and outpatients.
“We basically are a community hospital,” Cashion says. “We
realize that our role is to be a portal to all other health-care
Like other small hospitals, LMH is recruiting for additional surgeons
and primary-care physicians, and has an ongoing need for nurses.
Cashion sticks his chest out when he speaks of the expansion and
believes it will help bring in physicians to serve the community. He
is also proud of the fact that $5.2 million of the project’s price
tag was raised through private donations.
“We are proud to remain independent,” he says. “That is
important to us as a community.”
Thomasville Medical Center’s merger with Novant Health in 1999 made
its $11 million renovation and expansion program possible, says
Gabrielle Causby, hospital president.
“If you look around the country, 27 hospitals closed last year,”
Causby says. “Smaller hospitals found it harder and harder to do
business under current reimbursement and make enough profit to
“Before this hospital ever saw an impact, board members looked
Now, Thomasville Medical Center has brand-new operating rooms with
state-of-the-art equipment, along with a new Medical Arts Building
that opened in November 2001. This building houses the hospital’s
rehabilitation center, Triad Orthopedics, Davidson County Cardiology
Associates and Family Foot Health Center.
The hospital’s outpatient clinics, formerly housed on the fourth
floor, are now on the first floor in a new part of the hospital. The
Triad Heartburn Treatment Center — the only one of its kind in the
area — is located here as well.
“Our goal is to bring as many services home as possible so people
don’t have to leave the community,” Causby says. “At smaller
hospitals, you have to be very good at diagnosis, you have to be very
good at emergency treatment and very good at referral routes.”
To assist with diagnosis, the medical center has requested MRI
equipment that will take the place of a mobile MRI available several
days a week.
Causby has been with Thomasville Medical Center for eight months, but
has known her colleagues at Novant for many years.
“To me, it was real important to go into an organization whose
philosophy is that of my personal and professional philosophy — you
put the patient first,” says Causby, a former nurse.
Education Comes First
Split between Lexington and Thomasville on Business I-85 is Davidson
County Community College. Like businesses, says president Bryan
Brooks, the college has been forced to adjust to the economy.
“Before the current economic shift, economic prosperity served
everyone quite well,” he says. “We were custom-designing
continuing education programs for business and industry. And our
traditional curriculum was booming.”
DCCC saw a 13 percent increase in curriculum enrollment in fall
semester 2001. Now, with a state budget shortfall and area layoffs,
the focus has shifted.
“Current trends are working against everything and it really does
create a tough situation,” Brooks says. “The people we’re seeing
have significant and severe needs.”
The college is now in a retraining mode to help residents affected by
“One-third of our work force didn’t finish high school,” Brooks
says, “and in hard economic times, they’re the first people to be
DCCC is responding as best it can, providing short-term intervention
or two-year programs that will lead graduates to good jobs.
Because of the Sept. 11 tragedy, Brooks says, there has been an
increased enrollment in the public safety services division. Because
of an ongoing shortage, the health technologies program is in high
Also because of high demand, DCCC created plastics and tool, dye and
mold making programs.
“There is a huge concentration of plastics manufacturers in this
area,” Brooks says, “and these companies must have a quality
Doug Croft loves attending concerts and theater performances in
Winston-Salem, High Point and Greensboro, and he loves going to those
cities, plus Charlotte and Raleigh, for college and professional
But when those days and nights out are over, what he loves most is the
short drive back home to Thomasville.
“People say, well, it’s not happening in Thomasville,” Croft
says. “It is for me.”
And so it is for Andy Calvert, a lifelong Lexington resident and
president of G.W. Mountcastle.
“I couldn’t ask for a better place to live and raise a family,”
he says. “We are located in a perfect part of the state. In two
hours you can enjoy the mountains and in three and half hours you are
overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.
“I think people want to live in communities that are progressive,
but can still provide the Norman Rockwell image of America. Lexington
is that place.”
Croft notes that people are more mobile than they used to be —
willing to drive to large cities to work or play — but demanding a
quality of life found only in small towns.
Like those in Davidson County.
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