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Community Profile


When hard times 
hit its core industries, 
Catawba County didn't 
gripe; it regrouped

By Ned Cline

Entrepreneur (n): one who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise.

An overly aggressive reporter once asked President Ronald Reagan to explain the difference between a big business and a small business. “W-e-l-l,” the president replied with that familiar trademark twinkle and mischievous grin as his nodding head tilted back and forth, “a small business is one that could become a big business if the government would just get out of the way.”

While that was something of an exaggeration, it was vintage Reagan. And he made a point. Many small businesses, which make up the majority of businesses in this state and nation, are started by entrepreneurs who turn them into bigger enterprises, sometimes with government intervention and sometimes in spite of it.

Many businesses in Catawba County started just that way. While Catawba — at one time the third largest manufacturing sector among North Carolina’s 100 counties and a community that once produced 40 percent of the world’s fiber optic cable — is not recognized for its small businesses, the historic evidence supporting that fact is pretty pronounced.

Corning manufacturers its highly acclaimed LANscape Pretium Solutions cable in its Catawba County Plant

A half-million people a year shop at the world famous Hickory Furniture Mart
Learn more about Catawba County:
Don Beaver defines Catawba's vision
Tournament showcases Catawba's strengths
Unique center retraining the workforce
Newton generates powerful attraction

Many of the existing huge furniture makers and textile plants once started small, some of them in garages and basements with a handful or fewer initial workers. Catawba County is still, of course, one of the premier furniture manufacturing centers in the nation, known for both volume and high quality. It is still recognized for its fiber optic cable production, although the employment numbers are down from the bustling 1990s when the telecom industry was floating in the clouds. Textiles are still big here, even if not as strong as before. There are segments of each of these industries that are still thriving.

Most of these industries that started small grew through care and willpower of entrepreneurs. The employment numbers expanded steadily, as the small shops became major industries. When the economic downturn started three years ago and numbers began dropping, the entrepreneurial spirit kicked in anew.

“Economically this is one of the most entrepreneurial communities anywhere,” says Catawba’s Chamber of Commerce interim president Joy Cline. She has observed the county’s business climate firsthand for 20 years as a chamber employee. “There are many businesses that started small here and the county embraces that approach. There is an abundance of collaboration and cooperation between business and government. We are stepping up the leadership in this area. A lot of the people who have lost jobs the last few years are still here because they know further opportunities will come.”

“We’ve gone through what might be called the ‘perfect storm’ in the economic downturn with furniture, textiles and fiber optics,” comments Scott Millar, the county’s economic development president. “But we have plenty of people here who know what to do. And despite our recent economic challenges, there have been significant successes. This community is holding hands like never before because of what has happened.

“We once (during the vibrant ’90s) thought we were an island unto ourselves and didn’t need cooperation and branching out,” Millar adds. “That was the past mindset. We are learning new habits and new ways. And it is working.”

Location, Location, Location

Catawba County itself offers a lot. But nearby locations are no less important for economic development than for house buying and Catawba is within easy distance to so much that is not within the county lines. “If people want to talk something that is nearby, we can do that,” Millar continues. “If they talk retirement and relaxation, we can talk about Blowing Rock and the Blue Ridge Parkway. If they want to talk automotive, we can talk about the Greenville, S.C., BMW plant. If they want to talk banking or professional sports, we can talk about Charlotte. We are looking regionally.” All those amenities are within an hour of Catawba County.

Those who aren’t paid to say good things about the county also are anxious to stand up for its history and future, especially those with long-standing ties and a record of good civic endeavors. Their track record for economic success is solid.

“There is an historic spirit here about business and start-up companies,” says John Forlines, a man with half a century as a banker in Catawba and neighboring counties. “I’ve got 20 or 25 customers at the bank who started just that way. We’ve had some hard times lately, and there are no quick fixes. But we’re going to be just fine. The people here are great and this place is so livable. I call it the garden spot.”

Forlines, 86, is retiring this year, but plans to remain active in civic life of the region. People who know him don’t doubt it. His home is in Caldwell County where the Bank of Granite is headquartered with 19 offices throughout the region, but he is deservedly known as “Mr. Catawba” when it comes to community needs and civic involvement.

Forlines’ successor will be Charles Snipes, 70, who also has watched the region’s progress for decades and lives in Hickory. “There is a great entrepreneurial spirit here,” Snipes says. “Many of the business that have thrived here started with just one or two employees. This has made for a great economic base. Economic hard times hurts everyone, but we’ve got bank customers who are now adding jobs at their businesses and buying buildings that they couldn’t buy a few years ago. Things are coming back and our customers are reporting increased business.”

Leroy Lail, owner of the mammoth Hickory Furniture Mart and other businesses that provide work for more than 400 local residents, says this county’s economic stability is are rooted in the successive generations who have stayed and persevered in hard times as well as good. “We’ve got good niches in businesses that are doing fine,” he says. “Sometimes it is hard to drop back and regroup, but we’re doing that. We are working hard to restructure programs to fit the needs.”

Pope Shuford, chair of both Shuford Mills and Shurtape Technologies Inc., agrees, but feels the economic comeback will take time and effort. Shuford, a former NCCBI director, says the region’s future lies as much in small businesses as large ones. “We’re slowly making progress in our recovery, but no one big industry will be the answer. It will take a lot of smaller companies regrouping and working together. We were aware of problems with furniture and textiles, but no one could have seen the drop in fiber optic companies.”

Shuford’s company is doing its part. It recently announced construction of a 139,000-square-foot distribution center to be built in the town of Catawba. The $5 million facility will anchor a new business park and create at least 10 new jobs. An even bigger splash will be made when Poppelmann, a privately owned German plastics processing company, begins construction this fall on a 33,000-square-foot production building and 55,000-square-foot warehouse in the Claremont Industrial Business Park. It’s expected to bring 50 new jobs and $12 million in investment for the state.

And while the EDC’s Millar correctly speaks of the many advantages of business and pleasure within the time it takes for lunch, others quickly point out the many things that are literally next door or down the street.

Great Quality of Life

The local community college is thriving and adding layers of economic enhancement. Lenoir-Rhyne College, a private Lutheran-supported institution, is a major educational and economic landmark. The county has three publicly supported community theaters, an arts center, a science center, a symphony orchestra and a choral society, all known for quality. The Catawba Council for the Arts supports 55 diverse arts, sciences and historical interests.

There are two high-quality medical centers in the county, both in Hickory, and three public school systems that now rank high on state standards despite the past record of low adult education levels.

The county is also proud of its rich past, with seven historic districts, and supports a museum of history and a furniture museum. “Culturally we can offer much of what larger cities have,” says the chamber’s Cline. “We feel we have the small town touch with big city amenities. We’re also the 10th largest metro shopping area in the state. No community embraces these things more than we do.”

Hickory is the largest of the municipalities in the county, but Newton is the county seat. Interstate 40 and Highway 321, both main arteries for commerce and tourism, provide the county with a network of major thoroughfares. Catawba is in the west central section of the state, an hour east of Asheville, 40 minutes north of Charlotte and the same distance from Blowing Rock and Boone in the northwest. Catawba, which has seven incorporated municipalities, is comprised of 400 square miles and is the 12th largest county in the state, a position it held steadily even in slower economic times in recent years. People who come to the county usually stay, even in hard times.

The latest census lists the county’s population at 146,500, ranging from a low of 450 in tiny Brookford to 38,600 in Hickory. Newton, in the eastern part of the county, is home to 13,000.

The county, named for the Indian tribe, was formed in 1842 from neighboring Lincoln County. Settlers first came in the middle 1700s when English aristocrat John Carteret owned all the land within the future county boundaries. During the Revolutionary War, residents were evenly divided between British and the colonists, but they united behind the Confederates during the Civil War.

Early settlers were Lutherans from Pennsylvania who adopted the Jeffersonian philosophy of ideal citizenship, independence in politics and religion and self-sufficiency. They believed in morality, perseverance, simplicity, and contentment. Those traits continue.

The largest single employer in the county is the school system. Businesses with more than 1,000 employees include privately owned Frye Regional Medical Center, CommScope Inc. and half a dozen furniture and textile manufacturers.

For business development, Catawba’s county tax rate of 48 cents is the envy of many other communities. That tax rate is second lowest among urban counties and ninth lowest in the state. The county also has an abundant water supply from Lake Hickory for expanding industries.

“We’ve got a good labor supply, a strong worth ethic, a strong entrepreneurial spirit, and a can-do attitude,” says County Manager Tom Lundy. “We make the commitment to do what needs to be done.” While the tax rate remains low, local elected officials did agree to an increase recently — but only for education. The agreement was that taxes would be added to schools, provided academic quality increased.

To match needs with wants of business and industry in the county, business leaders have formed a long-range planning group known as Foresight. Volunteers are gathering data on industrial and other business needs in four separate areas: jobs and economy, education, leadership and political action, and the environment. Reports on findings will be made public so that the entire community can be a part of finding solutions to needs. More than 125 people, with an emphasis on racial and gender diversity, are involved in this project.

“We will have a champion for each of these (four) categories,” says Philip Null, Foresight’s chair. “We will be looking at our immediate needs and working toward solutions.”

Strong Manufacturing Base

Manufacturing still dominates the region, but new kinds of industries are coming in and scouting the area. While Alcatel, a French-owned fiber optic manufacturer, has fallen on hard times, many of those workers have been picked up by other new industries. Unemployment is still in the 8 percent range, meaning an adequate available labor force is ready and waiting. Like most of North Carolina, Catawba County is low on labor unions, and wants to keep it that way. Of the 575 industries in the county, only two are represented by labor unions.

Complementing the long-standing homegrown industries are new foreign companies. Three European countries (England, Germany and France) and Canada are represented among 10 different manufacturing plants in the county.

The latest large industrial plant to choose the county is also a German company, ZF Friedrichshafen AG, which earlier this year announced a new facility in Newton. ZF is a $45 million project that will open a 200,000-square-foot building in Danner Industrial Park and employ 180 workers at the start with more employees and more space to be added. The company produces high-end auto suspension parts for BMW and Mercedes vehicles. ZF is among the 15 largest automotive supplies in the world and employs 6,000 workers in the NAFTA region.

It took state and local incentives to acquire ZF Corp., but industrial recruiters consider it a wise investment. Newton alone invested almost $2 million to the ZF project, a fact that City Manager Edward Burchins calls a major commitment for a town of that size. The hope, of course, is that these kinds of incentives and companies will spawn others.

The town of Claremont next door to Newton recently acquired a German plastics factory, Poppelman USA, a $15 million project that will employ 60 people. The company makes plastic containers for flowers.

Foreign companies aren’t the only ones looking at the area as opportunities for growth. Recently, Gregory Wood Products, a subsidiary of G&G Wood Products, announced a new $20 million wood processing factory that will employ 115 workers at salaries of $600 a week. The company is headquartered in neighboring Iredell County, but serves clients in 33 states.

“We see balanced growth across the county,” Millar of the EDC says. “We are still facing challenges, and may not quickly replace job for job, but we are seeing growth and are having success despite the many challenges.”

In addition to tax breaks for new industries, local leaders and community college officials have pledged to offer training for new companies, or retraining for existing ones. Catawba Valley Community College President Cuyler Dunbar says he stands ready to meet changing needs of industry.

Millar says one of the keys to success in recruiting new companies is the commitment to provide employee training. The community college, which opened 44 years ago, serves 4,700 fulltime students and offers 100 different programs for up to 12,000 part-time students a semester. It has a history of training workers for local industries. “We are constantly looking at new programs and are ready to start when needs dictate,” Dunbar says. “We will develop what the community needs. We are always ready to hike up the entrepreneurialship. There is tremendous potential here and the spirit of innovation is unique.”

Commercial Airlines Returning

Among the advantages for business in the county is the Hickory Municipal Airport with two runways, the longest 6,400 feet to serve corporate and private planes. The airport property, some of it actually located in neighboring Burke County, serves the entire region with some 3,800 landings and takeoffs a month for private planes.

The airport has been without commercial service for some years, but not content to keep it that way, even though the Charlotte airport is only an hour away. “We are working diligently to reestablish commercial air service at the earliest possible date,” airport director Timothy Deike says. “Right now, it looks like next February before that can happen, but that could change.”

Among the driving forces in Catawba are two economic engines not tied to manufacturing. Neither causes pollution nor requires anything beyond basic services, yet both produce ample financial stimulates to the community, public and private.

One is the Rock Barn Golf & Spa Club in Conover and the other is Lenoir-Rhyne College in Hickory.

Rock Barn is a thriving and pleasant golfing community with upscale homes and amenities, all helping support the county’s tax base. The facility employs more than 200 workers, some seasonal, on the 1,400 acres of rolling and scenic land that supports two golf courses, 325 upscale homes, and swim, spa and country club facilities with close to 1,000 members.

Club president John Hemmings says the property represents a $40 million investment, not counting the tax revenue its owners and homeowners provide for the county. Property owner Don Beaver, best known for his investments in baseball teams and rest homes, says he never thought much about his economic impact in the region because he just wanted to have something worthy for residents and businesses.

“I have no idea what the total financial impact of this property might be,” Beaver says. “I have done what I have because this is just a great place to live and work. I’ve been here since 1966. I guess it has been successful because I wasn’t afraid to take some risks. I wanted the community to do well.”

Beaver’s risk taking and determination, in addition to his own money, has meant multimillions to the region through tax revenues, job promotion and quality of life. The majority of Rock Barn residents do not need schools or much in the way of services from local government, yet they add tremendously to the tax base.

Lenoir-Rhyne, established in 1891, serves 1,550 students a year and for the last three years has been ranked high among North Carolina private colleges by U.S. News & World Report.

The college, with an annual $20 million budget and a $14 million payroll, has more than 400 employees and helps bring more than 80,000 visitors a year to the county for various events. The school spends roughly $1 million a year on construction projects, has $3 million on deposit in local banks and a $30 million endowment. “We feel blessed to be a part of this community,” says President Dr. Wayne Powell. “We gain so much and are pleased to be able to give back to the economy, educational advancement and culture. Lenoir-Rhyne has an exciting vision for the future as we work with the community through service programs and internships.”

Among the high profile Lenoir-Rhyne graduates are University of Texas basketball coach Rick Barnes, influential state senator David Hoyle, state House co-speaker Jim Black, Lynn and Leroy Lail, owners of the Hickory Furniture Mart and local hotels; and Charles Snipes, new CEO of the Bank of Granite.

Excellent Healthcare Facilities

In some communities the size of Catawba, multiple healthcare facilities tend to compete rather than complement each other. Here, leaders say cooperation is more the norm between the two local hospitals. Both offer quality care, with differing specialties.

Frye Regional Medical Center, the largest hospital in the region, is privately owned and is affiliated with TenetHealth Care Corp. based in California. Catawba Valley Medical Center is a nonprofit facility owned by the county.

Frye Medical Center, established 93 years ago, employs almost 1,600 full-time staff and hundreds of part-time workers. The hospital paid the county $727,500 in property taxes last year and paid more than $2 million in sales and other taxes. Medical specialties at Frye include cardiology, oncology, vascular, neuroscience, surgical weight loss, neonatal intensive care and behavioral health. State and national publications have listed it in the top tier of hospitals its size. “Frye is dedicated to continually improving the way we take care of our patients, physicians and community and I am proud of the staff that makes this happen everyday,” says Frye CEO Dennis Phillips.

Although Catawba Valley Medical Center is county owned, it supports itself financially. It has an annual payroll of almost $60 million with 250 medical staff and 258 patient beds. It serves residents in a five-county area and stresses prevention and health lifestyles in addition to treatment. The hospital offers, for example, community counseling and healthy cooking classes as part of its disease treatment program.

While town and gown are coming together with the cooperative efforts of Appalachian State University and Lenoir-Rhyne College with the Higher Education Center promoted by local business leaders, so are efforts at work and play. The county’s Economic Development offices are soon to be merged with the convention and visitors bureau to help promote the region as both an industrial center and tourist destination. The merger will come as part of the expansion of the county’s convention center on I-40 at Hickory.

The convention center, jointly supported by the county and city of Hickory, has become so popular that it is being expanded by 38,000 square feet for multipurpose events and conventions. The N.C. League of Municipalities will meet at the center next year.

Tourism and convention business last year generated $163.8 million for the Tourism Development Authority with an annual payroll of $37.4 million, all while adding some $9 million to state tax coffers and another $5 million in local taxes.

Hickory Mayor Rudy Wright says the merger of economic development and tourism programs is designed to aid the state and region in promoting jobs and industry.

 Catawba seems to have taken a close look at itself in light of the economic skids of the last few years. The entrepreneurial spirit that helped make the area strong is still active. The county’s leaders, with an eye on the future but with respect for the past, are slowly but surely shifting from the idleness of a sluggish economy into a viable engine of opportunity. The welcome mat is out and the door is open.

Don Beaver Defines Catawba's Vision
When Don Beaver was a kid, he loved to play golf. But love and money didn’t always match up. Growing up in Statesville, Beaver couldn’t afford to play at the better quality — and certainly more expensive — courses.

One of the few golfing hangouts with fees to fit Beaver’s budget was a rural course in neighboring Catawba County. It was not the best, but it was the best he could afford. He wanted better and set out to achieve it.

Today, Don Beaver owns the place. And what a place it has become. The place is Rock Barn Golf & Spa in Conover. Members of the North Carolina magazine Golf Panel voted its second 18-hole layout — the Jones Course named in honor of its designer, Robert Trent Jones Jr. — the state’s Best New Course this past March. Further, Golf Digest has deemed it the fourth best upscale public golf course in the nation. Like Beaver himself, it has come a long way since he first lugged clubs around the course.

Rock Barn moved through two previous sets of owners before Beaver bought it in 1997 and began turning it into a showcase. He has invested in the range of $40 million in upgrades, with more to come.

Beaver is one of a group of determined entrepreneurs who have helped turn Catawba County into an area that is turning heads of business leaders and blue collar workers. He may, however, be the leader of that pack.

Rock Barn is a multimillion investment among Beaver’s many other business enterprises. The club and facilities are located on Rock Barn Road just off Interstate 40, five miles east of Hickory. Details on prices, amenities, location and future plans are available at

Beaver also once owned a chain of 50 nursing homes — which provided him the resources to invest in Rock Barn — and still owns 15. He owns three minor league baseball teams ­— the Hickory Crawdads, Charlotte Knights and New Orleans Zephyrs — and is a minority owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates. He once tried to secure a major-league baseball team for the Piedmont Triad region between Greensboro and Winston-Salem, one of his few ventures that failed to meet his expectations. Rock Barn and nursing homes are Beaver’s business labors. Baseball is his labor of love.

He has turned Rock Barn into a haven for upscale living and recreation, but it’s not done yet. Beaver had the original course, designed by Tom Jackson, greatly refined and hired Jones to design the second. The two 18-hole courses and other amenities are spread over more than 1,200 acres of rolling hills and streams. Beaver spent $800,000 alone just on bridges across the waterways on the two courses.

The club’s residential section has 325 homes and 400 property owners and the club has close to 1,000 members. Home values range from a low of $300,000 to a high of $1.8 million. The average home value is half a million. Home site prices range from $68,000 for garden homes to $120,000 for one acre-plus lots facing the golf courses.

Beaver is committed to adding more land as it is needed to meet his expansion plans. Next on the planning board is a lodge for overnight guests and small conventions and an office building. Those two new facilities will add another $4 million investment. After that will be a planned retirement village.

Of all there is at Rock Barn, however, the most surprising may well be the 20,000-square-foot spa, which also houses a state-of-the-art fitness center. You seldom see these kinds of investments and amenities in such a rural setting. The spa facility affords swimming, tennis, racquetball and full massages and a relaxation room. One of the highest rated spas along the East Coast is at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville. For an indication of the quality at Rock Barn, it should be noted that club president John Hemmings hired the Grove Park spa manager to supervise the Rock Barn spa.

Beaver, in his early 60s, doesn’t brag about all he has done. On the contrary, his hard-charging energy and drive doesn’t show up in his quiet demeanor and personality.

“I just happened to be at the right place at the right time and saw a need,” he said during an interview at one of Rock Barn’s restaurants. “I just like for everything here to be first class.”

No one who drives down the picturesque lane into Rock Barn, or plays the two golf courses, or visits the spacious homes or spends an afternoon at the spa can ever claim he didn’t succeed. -- Ned Cline

Tournament Showcases Catawba's Strengths
Below: Rock Barn owner Don Beaver (left) presents a check to Craig Stadler, winner of the inaugural Greater Hickory Classic

This month, Catawba County will take a back seat to no other golfing community in North Carolina — or most anywhere else — when the second annual Greater Hickory Classic begins at the increasingly popular Rock Barn Golf & Spa.

Last year’s inaugural tournament for Champions Tour players (the 50 and older set) surpassed expectations, which were already high. This year’s event, when Craig Stadler will defend his title Aug. 20-22, looks even brighter.

The Rock Barn facility in Conover, just east of Hickory and just a mile off Interstate 40, opens its arms to players and spectators alike. More than 90,000 fans showed up last year to watch 28 of the top 30 senior golfers match skills. The event pumped more than $30 million into the local economy, not counting the potential business expansion and recruitment benefits.

Tournament Director Jim Correll says the event is unlike anything else in the region, providing wholesome entertainment, great golf, economic stimulants and philanthropic enhancements. In addition to golf, the event includes business exhibits and pavilions showcasing the county’s industrial and manufacturing achievements. Economic developers use the tournament as a recruiting tool, aided by media exposure in print and electronic outlets. The Golf Channel will carry the tournament live all three days. Local charities received more than $100,000 in donations from the initial tournament.

Last year, spectators consumed 15,000 bottles of water, ate 7,500 hot dogs and purchased more than 2,100 golf shirts and caps.

Rock Barn President John Hemmings anticipates a larger number of fans and even greater economic and tourist benefits at this year’s tournament. Roadwork near the tournament site has been completed to help improve traffic flow.

Players as well as spectators rated the tournament highly last year. Hale Irwin called the week of play “wonderful” and added to Rock Barn managers: “You and your staff and really all of Hickory did a great job of hospitality and generosity. All other tournaments should use your event as a model.”

Specifics on cost, parking, amenities and the list of players who are scheduled to compete are available at  — Ned Cline

Unique Center Retraining the Workforce
Below: The Hickory Metropolitan Higher Education Center is the first of its find in the state

Remember the story about the mule? You know, the one where the farmer slaps the animal on the head with a 2-by-4 timber, just to get his attention?

Well, there was no mule and no farmer involved, but leaders in Catawba County surely felt the sting when the factories and even the high-tech industries began closing the doors and reducing workforces three years ago. The county’s unemployment skyrocketed from an envious 2.4 percent to 10.2 percent in little more than a year.

That kind of thing would get even an optimist’s attention. Suddenly Catawba’s leaders — public and private — realized for the first time after decades of smooth business sailing that many of these newly unemployed and underemployed were on an economic dead end street.

Statistics showed Catawba County’s adult education achievement level to be the lowest in the region and the region’s adult academic level was the lowest in the state.

 “That shocked us because we had just rocked along for too long with so many of our citizens thinking that at age 16 they could get a factory job that would last forever,” says Catawba County Commissioner Chair Kitty Barnes, a former school board member. “Well, no more. All of a sudden we had a lot of undereducated people out of work.”

And therein lies the analogy to the story of the farmer and mule. That got attention in a hurry.

From that jolt has emerged the Hickory Metropolitan Higher Education Center. Similar centers exist in other states, but this is the first of its kind in North Carolina.

 Functioning as an arm of the Catawba Valley Community College, the HEC has cooperative programs with Appalachian State University in Boone and Lenoir-Rhyne College in Hickory. Both offer multiple academic courses allowing students — most either unemployed or fearing they will be — to move on to either the community college two-year degree or a higher-level four-year degree. N.C. State University in Raleigh recently joined the team with a limited engineering program, as did the University of North Carolina at Charlotte with computer courses.

A 14-member advisory board is made up of local elected and educational leaders and business people (the one outside member is former Gov. Jim Hunt) who oversee the programs and review courses of study based on local business needs. The HEC is in its second year with more than 500 student participants. Within two years leaders expect to have 1,500 students studying for 20 degree-credit programs and 130 different courses. It’s not just for Catawba County, either. Half the students will come from neighboring counties as HEC officials put regionalism into practice.

The HEC operates on an annual budget of $870,000 with an on-site staff of only three. Funding comes from federal and state sources, a Golden Leaf $175,000 grant and local corporate contributions. The budget numbers include the student fees paid to the participating colleges and universities that provide faculty who teach courses on the east campus of the local community college. Students — virtually all adults who attend classes at night — pay their own fees, many with help of employers who want their workers to increase their skill levels. Almost half the students enrolled are above 35 years of age and 10 percent are older than 55. Students are evenly divided between men and women. Sixteen percent are racial minorities or Hispanics.

“This just came into existence because local leaders saw the need,” said Dr. Jane Everson, the HEC director. “Our goal is to raise the educational attainment level and economic development of people in this community, to help them gain and retain skills and remain in the area. We are simply trying to help people already here who have either lost jobs or fear losing jobs by targeting the needs of local industries. The business community here took the lead in this and asked for this because they wanted their employees to have greater access to more educational opportunities.”

Catawba Valley Community College President Cuyler Dunbar calls the HEC an “exciting concept” for the college and the region. “Everyone is joining together to make things better,” Dunbar says. “It will be a major benefit to the people of the community and businesses. We’re the leader in North Carolina with this effort.”

If the first two years are indicative of the next three to five years, the benefits will continue to multiply. More details are available on the HEC’s web site at  — Ned Cline

Newton Generates Powerful Attraction
You want power, we’ve got it.” That’s the message from Catawba County’s industrial recruiters as they go about recruiting new industrial plants to the Newton area. Newton, the county seat on the eastern end of the county, has invested $3 million in six backup generators that are available as standby power supplies to industrial clients who can’t risk being without electrical power, even more a few minutes.

Newton City Manager Edward Burchins and Catawba Economic Development Commission President Scott Millar say it’s a wise investment. They consider the concept efficient, effective and innovative. Industrial clients are receptive.

As new companies with fast-paced production needs move to the area, Burchins says, the need for uninterrupted electrical power is increasingly important. “If you are a company that requires uninterrupted power, the city of Newton will provide you with a generator free of change,” Burchins says. The generators are available for companies needing a minimum of 500 kilowatts. They will be installed and maintained by the city.

“This is just another idea to help businesses and move a step beyond actions of power companies,” Millar says. “It has been well received.”

Millar has also developed what he calls “prequalified” industrial sites. Through the Internet, prospective industrial clients can find specific details on available properties that fit their needs without even coming to the area. “If we do our homework, prospects don’t need to do it,” he says. “It speeds up the process of recruitment. Prospects in Japan can see what we have in a matter of seconds. We’re just trying to meet the needs and save companies time and money.”  — Ned Cline

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