Friday was an “awesome” day for Mount Airy in more ways than one.
It was revealed during a 45-minute program at the Andy Griffith Playhouse that Awesome Products Inc. is the company which will be establishing a manufacturing facility in the former Bassett Furniture plant.
Awesome Products, which makes a wide range of household, automotive and other cleaning products, is expected to hire 140 people in its early stages. And company owner and President L.D. Hardas announced during Friday’s event that he hopes to grow the facility to at least 300 people.
“We are looking forward to that,” Hardas added.
That “awesome” announcement was roundly applauded Friday by city and county officials who have dealt with opposite news over the past decade: thousands of job losses. And Hardas’ comments also drew applause and a standing ovation from a nearly full theater at the playhouse, which seats about 325 people.
“Mr. Hardas is making an awesome decision to come to Surry County,” said Mount Airy Mayor Deborah Cochran, one of several state and local officials who offered remarks from the playhouse stage.
Awesome Products now has manufacturing and distribution facilities in Orange County, Calif., and West Memphis, Ark. The company that began with one employee in a 600-square-foot facility in the 1980s now hires 300 people, who’ll be joined by those working at its first plant in North Carolina here.
Hardas’ company is investing about $22 million in the venture, which includes buying the 540,000-square-foot Bassett facility and retooling it for the new use. Initially it will be a distribution center, with manufacturing operations to be added later.
A key factor in Awesome Products selecting that site on Sheep Farm Road was transportation access, including the reopening of a railway spur there to serve the company.
That was accomplished with the help of Shirley Randleman and Sarah Stevens, who represent Surry County in the N.C. Senate and House of Representatives, respectively, and cooperation from a railroad official.
Remarks during Friday’s program also indicated that a state and local team effort made the announcement possible.
Praise went to the Surry County Economic Development Partnership (EDP); the Surry County Board of Commissioners, which approved a $543,448 incentive package for Awesome Products in November; Mayor Cochran and the city commissioners; the N.C. Department of Commerce; and the N.C. Department of Transportation.
“Things like this don’t happen overnight,” said Todd Tucker, EDP president. “We’ve been working on this for a while.”
“This is an eventful day in Surry County and I think it bodes well for the future,” county commissioners Chairman Eddie Harris added during the event. He said the coming of Awesome Products should prove that “Surry County is truly open for business.”
Harris told Hardas regarding his selection for the local operation, “You will not be disappointed in your choice, I assure you.”
The county commissioners chairman referred to the role the Bassett plant’s geographic location played in the decision. “But our greatest asset is our people,” Harris continued.
Along with various officials, the playhouse stage boasted a display of the company’s many products in containers of bright colors beside a large banner with the logo, “L.A. is Totally Awesome.”
They include laundry detergent, bleach, carpet shampoo, dish detergent, tire cleaners, fabric softeners and others.
Cochran said the products are sold in local stores.
As part of the recruitment, officials from Surry County journeyed to Awesome Products’ facility in Arkansas.
“This is a very innovative company,” said Dale Carroll, deputy secretary of the N.C. Department of Commerce, who represented that agency for Friday’s announcement.
“These are good jobs — paying above the county average wage,” Carroll said of the positions being created. The average annual pay involved is said to be $33,611, plus benefits.
Addressing the playhouse audience, Carroll said, “This is a good day not only for your community, but the state of North Carolina.”
And turning to the Awesome Products owner and president, he said, “Sir, we appreciate your faith in us.”
Harris, the county commissioners’ chairman, said L.D. Hardas’ success in building his company represents the best of the free enterprise system. It exemplifies the kind of entrepreneurial spirit and hard work “which can bring us out of this recession,” he said.
“Mr. Hardas is living the American dream,” Harris added regarding the native of India.
Rep. Stevens pointed out Friday that Hardas brought along other industrial leaders on his visit to Mount Airy, which could lead to further growth once they have seen the area.
Also during the gathering Friday, Mayor Cochran read a proclamation declaring it as “L.D. Hardas Day” in Mount Airy and presented Hardas with a key to the city.
Mount Airy News-by:Tom Joyce