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Surry County News

Read about new business, events and news that effects life and commerce in the western Piedmont Triad.

Duke Energy begins construction on largest solar plant in Surry County, N.C.

CHARLOTTE, N.C.June 22, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — Duke Energy continues to expand solar power in North Carolina with construction starting on its 22.6-megawatt (MW) Stony Knoll Solar power plant. Once completed, it will be the largest solar plant in Surry County. The project will be owned and operated by Duke Energy Sustainable Solutions.* The project was selected as part of the competitive bidding process established by 2017’s solar legislation in North Carolina. The solar plant will contain 76,600 Trina Solar bifacial modules with single-axis tracking. The plant will be located on 195 acres in Dobson, N.C. – near Rockford Road. The facility will power the equivalent of 5,000 homes. It is targeting commercial operation by the end of 2021. “Duke Energy is bringing more carbon-free, renewable energy to customers in North Carolina. We’re pleased to add Surry County to our ever-growing list of solar locations as we significantly reduce carbon emissions on our path to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050,” said Stephen De May, Duke Energy’s North Carolina president. Under North Carolina’s Competitive Procurement for Renewable Energy, proposed projects must be built where there is a need for energy capacity on the Duke Energy system in North Carolina or South Carolina. The bids can come from any company, including Duke Energy, and can be in the form of power purchase agreements (PPA), utility self-developed facilities, or utility asset acquisitions. “We’re pleased to continue to build upon the renewable energy resources in the state. The Stony Knoll solar project marks the third facility that we have announced in North Carolina this year and demonstrates our continued commitment to increasing clean energy generation in the state,” said Chris Fallon, president of Duke Energy Sustainable Solutions. During peak construction, Stony Knoll Solar will create about 70 jobs. Along with indirect economic benefits that accompany solar project development, such as increased local spending in the service and construction industries, Stony Knoll Solar will also have a positive economic impact on the local community by providing local tax revenues to the county and local school districts, as well as meaningful payments to the participating landowners. Duke Energy Sustainable Solutions also supports the communities where its facilities and team members are based through the efforts of the Duke Energy Foundation. In January, the company awarded $10,000 to Copeland Elementary School in Dobson to fund the purchase of Chromebooks for students. The facility’s design, procurement of inverters, the balance of plant systems, and construction of the project will be performed by Swinerton Renewable Energy. The energy generated by Stony Knoll will be delivered through a 20-year power purchase agreement with Duke Energy Carolinas.

A leader in renewable energy

Duke Energy maintains more than 3,700 MW of solar power on its energy grid in North Carolina, which could power about 700,000 homes and businesses at peak output. The company also operates more than 40 solar facilities in the state. North Carolina currently ranks No. 3 in the nation for overall solar power. With nuclear, hydro, and renewable energy, more than half of North Carolina’s energy mix is carbon-free. As one of the nation’s top renewable energy providers, Duke Energy plans to double its enterprisewide renewable portfolio from 8 gigawatts (GW) of capacity to 16 GW by the end of 2025.

Duke Energy Sustainable Solutions

Duke Energy Sustainable Solutions is a nonregulated commercial brand of Duke Energy (NYSE: DUK) – a Fortune 150 company and one of the largest energy holding companies in the U.S. – headquartered in Charlotte, N.C. Duke Energy Sustainable Solutions is a leader in sustainable energy, helping large enterprises reduce power costs, lower emissions, and increase resiliency. The team provides wind, solar, resilient backup power, and managed energy services to over 1,000 projects across the U.S., with a total electric capacity of more than 5,100 megawatts of nonregulated renewable energy. Visit Duke Energy Sustainable Solutions and follow on LinkedIn and YouTube for more information. Duke Energy is executing an aggressive clean energy strategy to create a smarter energy future for its customers and communities – with goals of at least a 50% carbon reduction by 2030 and net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The company is a top U.S. renewable energy provider, on track to operate or purchase 16,000 megawatts of renewable energy capacity by 2025. More information about the company is available at duke-energy.com. The Duke Energy News Center contains news releases, fact sheets, photos, videos, and other materials. Duke Energy’s illumination features stories about people, innovations, community topics, and environmental issues. Follow Duke Energy on TwitterLinkedInInstagram and Facebook.

Cautionary Language Concerning Forward-Looking Statements.

This document includes forward-looking statements within the meaning of Section 27A of the Securities Act of 1933 and Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. Forward-looking statements are based on management’s beliefs and assumptions. These forward-looking statements are identified by terms and phrases such as “anticipate,” “believe,” “intend,” “estimate,” “expect,” “continue,” “should,” “could,” “may,” “plan,” “project,” “predict,” “will,” “potential,” “forecast,” “target,” “outlook,” “guidance,” and similar expressions. Various factors may cause actual results to be materially different than the suggested outcomes within forward-looking statements; accordingly, there is no assurance that such results will be realized. These risks and uncertainties are identified and discussed in Duke Energy’s most recent Annual Report on Form 10-K and subsequent quarterly reports on Form 10-Q filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) and available at the SEC’s website at www.sec.gov. In light of these risks, uncertainties, and assumptions, the events described in the forward-looking statements might not occur or might occur to a different extent or at a different time than Duke Energy has described. Duke Energy expressly disclaims any obligation to publicly update or revise any forward-looking statements, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise.

* Duke Energy Sustainable Solutions is a non-regulated commercial brand of Duke Energy Corporation, which includes the following subsidiaries of Duke Energy Corporation that are registered to transact business in various states and may be branded as Duke Energy Sustainable Solutions for marketing purposes: Duke Energy One, Inc.; Duke Energy Commercial Enterprises, Inc.; Duke Energy Renewables, Inc.; Duke Energy Renewables Commercial, LLC; Duke Energy Renewable Services, LLC.; Duke Energy Renewables Storage, LLC; Duke Energy Renewables Wind, LLC.; Duke Energy Renewables Solar, LLC.; and REC Solar Commercial Corporation.

Altec to add 100 jobs

For the second time since buying a division of Pike Industries in 2016, Altec Industries Inc. has announced expansion plans at its Mount Airy location.

This time, the firm says it will add 100 jobs to its existing operation, as well as invest more than $9 million in both the present facility and a new 100,000 square-foot building it will construct.

The expansion comes about after the company and the Surry County Board of Commissioners put together an agreement that will use state grant funds to help with the extension of a natural gas line to the current Altec site just outside of Mount Airy.

The grant was awarded from the North Carolina Governor’s Office and the North Carolina Department of Commerce. Surry County was a recipient of an Industrial Development Fund, Utility Account Grant in the amount of $540,000, and Surry County will contribute $180,000 to help match the grant funds.

This grant will help construct a natural gas line to the current Altec facility where the company will build an additional 100,000 square foot structure to aid in its distribution and manufacturing processes, company officials said.

“Surry County…is excited about this project and is happy to provide incentive funding to make this a reality,” said Mark Marion, chairman of the board of commissioners. “The board of commissioners would like to thank Altec for expanding operations, Frontier Natural Gas for extending the natural gas line, and the Surry County Economic Development Partnership, the state, and all other partners who made this possible.

”Surry County citizens need good jobs and this project will add more to our economy, as well as bring natural gas to an area that could really benefit from its addition. We have a real opportunity here to take advantage of natural gas, which can help grow and expand our economy, increasing jobs in Surry County and providing more income to our hard-working citizens,” he said.

“Altec is grateful to be a part of the continued growth in Surry County and we appreciate the outstanding partnership that has been developed with the leaders in this community,” said Ben Griffin, Altex general manager. “We receive tremendous support from the local economic development group, county leadership, and our state representatives. In particular, we’d like to extend our appreciation to the Surry County Economic Development Partnership, the Surry County Commissioners, the North Carolina Department of Commerce, and the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina for granting the funding to bring the much-needed natural gas line to Altec’s Mount Airy facility. It is a critical element to our growth plans for the plant and will allow us to continue to create new job opportunities within the community.”

This is the second significant expansion Altec has undertaken over the past five years. In 2016 the company bought a division of Pike Electric, establishing a presence in the community. Less than a year-and-a-half later, the firm announced its first expansion, adding 50 jobs with a total investment of more than $5 million, coming from a combination of state and local grants and company resources.

“We are very excited that Altec is growing its presence here in Surry County,” said Todd Tucker, president of the Surry County Economic Development Partnership. “We have worked with the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, the North Carolina Department of Commerce, Surry County, Frontier Natural Gas, and others to help them expand and create more good-paying jobs.

Altec’s Griffin said as part of the expansion, the firm is seeking qualified applicants for numerous positions including assemblers, welders, material handlers, CDL drivers, engineers, and technical salesmen.

BSA Trucking holds grand opening

BSA Trucking holds grand opening

BSA Trucking held a grand opening for its new facility in Dobson last week.

The firm, owned by Randy and Sandra Davis, is named for their three children — Blake, Scottie, and Amy, all of whom work at the company.

The couple opened the firm in 1998 with a single truck, and now they’ve grown to 31 trucks and 60 drivers, making deliveries from coast to coast.

The ribbon-cutting was sponsored by the Yadkin Valley Chamber of Commerce and included brief addresses by chamber President David Steelman, Dobson Mayor Ricky Draughn, and local minister Austin Caviness.

Sign company expanding in Mount Airy

Sign company expanding in Mount Airy

Roughly two-and-a-half years ago, in the autumn of 2018, Kieffer | Starlite sign company, with facilities in both Denton, Texas and Sheboygan, Wisconsin, purchased Mount Airy’s Burton Signworks.

Tuesday, the company announced it would be expanding the Mount Airy location, and adding jobs to its local operation.

The firm will actually be consolidating two local facilities, one at 510 Riverside Drive and a second at 609 Junction Street, into one single operation at the Junction Street location, according to Brad Davis, purchasing agent with the company. As part of that move, the company will be expanding, building a 21,000-square-foot addition to the already existing 80,000 square feet at the Junction Street location.

“Two new loading docks are included in the construction, and the layout is redesigned to accommodate channel letter and thermoforming equipment that will be moved to the main facility,” the company said in a written statement about the expansion.

“We are grateful to have the support from our community leaders,” said Roger Miller, director of manufacturing for the Mount Airy plant. “Their commitment to our success is making our vision a reality much sooner than anticipated.”

The firm held what it is calling an “internal groundbreaking” for employees and company officials last week, with the intention of completing the expansion by the end of August.

In addition to housing all of the company’s local manufacturing, Miller said the expanded facility “…will result in a safer and more efficient work environment.”

The firm has 140 employees at present, with 35 of those in Mount Airy. Davis said Kieffer | Starlite has 10 job openings at present, and hopes, after the expansion is complete, to have a workforce of 50 in the Mount Airy facility.

“We have several positions open now and will continue to add more after the expansion,” Miller explained. “Our company offers competitive pay, with benefits and many other monetary incentives.”

He said that “the sign industry offers an exciting career path as there are multiple cross-training opportunities. With custom sign work, there is always a new challenge.”

“We have a great team that works together to take a product from concept to watching it ship out to the customer. Our team of hard workers focus on Kieffer Starlite being best in class when it comes to manufacturing and enjoys being a part of delivering quality products to our customers across the U.S.”

Kieffer | Starlite had its beginnings more than six decades ago when Starlite Signs was founded in Denton Texas in 1956. Three years later, in Sheboygan, Kieffer & Co. was founded, according to the firm’s website.

The two companies operated largely independently of one another, maintaining a successful presence in the industry until November 2016, when the two merged and branded the new company as Kieffer | Starlite.

“The result was increased manufacturing capabilities and ability to provide best-in-class sign solutions nationwide and globally,” the company said.

In what the company refers to as its Southeast Expansion, Kieffer | Starlite bought the Mount Airy-based Burton Signworks in the fall of 2018, acquiring the 35-year-old firm and its 80,000 square feet of manufacturing space.

Now, the company has announced the expansion of the Mount Airy location, along with the job openings. For those wishing to know more about the job opportunities, or about the firm in general, visit https://kiefferstarlite.com/careers/

Hospital parking deck, building plans revealed

Hospital parking deck, building plans revealed

Northern Regional Hospital has unveiled plans for major projects costing an estimated $11 million, including the addition of a medical office building, parking deck and other facilities.

This emerged during a presentation to the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners at a meeting Thursday afternoon, when city officials were asked to close a section of Worth Street near the hospital as a safety measure linked to those plans.

The changes in store for the Rockford Street facility — which opened in 1957 — represent 16 months of study and reflect “where we are going for the next 20-plus years,” hospital President and Chief Executive Officer Chris Lumsden stated.

“We are very excited today to be able to present this plan to you,” Lumsden said of the overall campus site study containing various elements, which meets one of his goals when becoming CEO nearly three years ago: growing the hospital.

Mayor Pro Tem Ron Niland mentioned Thursday that it is now the largest employer in Surry County with more than 1,000 people on the payroll.

The project announcement came in the wake of action last month by the commissioners to rezone five separate parcels of hospital land on South South and Worth streets for Medical Business use.

One highlight of the master campus plan — to be done in phases — is the construction of a 25,000-square-foot medical office building on South Street just west of the main hospital site.

It also the costliest, with a price tag of $8.25 million. The construction is scheduled to begin this fall and be completed in the spring of 2023.

“We are moving very quickly to secure pricing for all phases of the project,” said Lumsden, since construction costs are increasing.

Though not included on the list of items presently pursued, Lumsden said that at some point another 40,000-square-foot building is to be constructed to accommodate specialty services.

Parking measures

While more office space is an objective of the expansion effort, Lumsden said safe and convenient accessibility to Northern Regional Hospital is another — “which is a challenge for some of our patients and employees.”

Toward that end, a parking deck costing $2 million will be built on property near the corner or Rockford and South streets above a portion of an existing surgery center parking lot.

The one-level deck is to contain 70 spaces. Work on it is slated to start in February or March of 2022 and be finished in December of that year.

Another parking addition will involve the development of an on-grade lot south of the surgery center, providing another 50 spaces. Work on this phase is to begin in July or August and be completed in December.

About 375 new parking spaces will result from the different projects, according to Lumsden, who said this is “really needed.”

Worth Street closure

Another facet of Northern Regional Hospital’s growth package is focused on the redevelopment later this year of its north campus along Worth Street, where a helicopter landing and takeoff site is located.

“Most important is it will create a safer environment for our employees and patients and visitors,” Lumsden said.

In conjunction with the north campus phase, Lumsden asked Mount Airy leaders Thursday afternoon to close the portion of Worth Street between the intersections of Rockford and South streets.

He said safety is the prime motivation there, adding that the hospital would have sought closure even without the redevelopment plans. “Because it’s a dangerous situation.”

The present setup includes a painted crosswalk on the pavement and signage directing motorists to stop as people cross back and forth between a parking area and the hospital building.

“But the sign gets run over and has to be replaced,” the hospital CEO said.

“The vast majority of vehicles that use Worth Street … exceed the speed limit,” Lumsden added. One driver passing through was clocked at 51 mph.

This is coupled with the findings of a recent one-week survey showing that about 750 crossings of Worth Street occur per day, including ill or injured persons ferried across it to medical helicopters for trauma center transports.

“That’s not good — that’s not safe,” the hospital official commented.

The Mount Airy Board of Commissioners took the first step toward the Worth Street closure Thursday afternoon by giving unanimous approval to a resolution of intent for that and setting a required public hearing for next month on the proposal.

City Planning Director Andy Goodall, who outlined this process Thursday, said the closing of the section of the street in question probably will draw little or no opposition since the hospital owns most of the property abutting the roadway.

Because the street is on the state highway system, the closure must be approved by the N.C. Department of Transportation along with municipal officials. That also is not viewed as an obstacle, based on discussion at the meeting.

Young Entrepreneur competition shows off businesses

Surry Early College High School held is school-level Young Entrepreneur of Surry County competition recently. The event, for Surry County students, allows young entrepreneurs to compete for prize money that will be invested in their business projects.

Surry Early College had two students who competed at the school-level competition. First place winner, Nathan Turner, won $500 to invest in his wreath-making business, Nathan’s Creations. Nathan will also move on to compete in the countywide competition in May.

Isaac Libbert finished second in the competition and won $250 to invest in his business, Access Technology, which is a tech support company geared towards helping senior citizens manage and maintain their computers.

Make an impact: Mount Airy native hopes younger people invest in N.C.’s more rural areas

“I thought that I would move far away,” Morrison said. “Part of the reason that I chose Auburn University was because of the distance that it is from Mount Airy.”

She came back for what she thought would be a year but has turned into roughly a decade.

She’s now the Main Street Coordinator, working to bring public art and change the face of Mount Airy.

When she first took the position, there was no public art downtown. Now, large murals decorate the sides of buildings and painted walkways brighten the streets.

“We’ve gradually introduced more and more art as being part of downtown, and now I’m just really seeing that snowball like rolling much faster now,” Morrison said.

Next, she’s working to get students involved in the project. In May, they’ll have a parking spot painting competition with local high school students showing off their artistic skills.

Over the past 50 years, the rural areas of North Carolina have seen a shift in populations.

A 1970s census report showed 55% of North Carolinians lived in rural areas. In a 2017 study, however, 72% of people had moved to urban centers.

Morrison has high hopes for Mount Airy. Based off the impact she’s been able to have, she knows you can move the needle faster and harder than if you try to do the same thing in a bigger city.

That’s one reason she wants the students to feel invested in downtown Mount Airy, so they see they don’t have to leave to have an impact.

“I firmly believe that the reason why Mount Airy thrives is because apathy has not taken over here. There’s just a lot of people that care, and I think that it’s important not to just disregard your small town for a larger city, nothing against larger cities, but if you care about your small town I guarantee you can do something about whatever it is that you think is lacking there,” Morrison said.

Insteel Industries net earnings jump

Insteel Industries Inc. (NYSE: IIIN) recently announced its second-quarter net earnings had more than tripled from the same period a year ago.

Net earnings for the quarter were $14.9 million, or 76 cents per share, up dramatically from $4.4 million, or 23 cents

per share, in the same period in 2020.

Net sales increased 21% to $139 million from $114.9 million in the prior-year quarter driven by a 15% increase in average selling prices and a 5.2% increase in shipments.

For the first six months of the year, net earnings were up even more, at $23.1 million, or $1.18 per share, from $4.9 million, or 25 cents per share, in the same period a year ago. Net sales increased 21.7% to $258.6 million from $212.4 million in the prior-year period, driven by a 12.7% increase in shipments and an 8% increase in average selling prices.

Net earnings for the prior-year period reflect a $900,000 decrease in the cash surrender value of life insurance policies and $300,000 of restructuring charges and acquisition costs related to the STM acquisition, which, in the aggregate, reduced net earnings by 5 cents per share.

Insteel ended the quarter debt-free with $58.9 million of cash and no borrowings outstanding on its $100 million revolving credit facility.

“Looking ahead to the second half of our fiscal year, we expect solid performance given the favorable trends in non-residential construction markets along with the usual seasonal upturn in demand,” said H.O. Woltz III, Insteel’s president, and CEO. “Recent private non-residential construction leading indicators are signaling a rebound in activity close to pre-pandemic levels and public construction activity has remained resilient which causes us to be optimistic about the demand environment for the next couple of quarters.”

“Over the last year we have pursued anti-dumping and countervailing duty trade cases against 16 countries we believe violated U.S. trade law with respect to their exports of PC strand and standard welded wire reinforcement to U.S. markets,” Woltz said. “We are pleased to report that we have received favorable determinations in the cases and expect to obtain margins against every country and every company we targeted. This lengthy process should wrap up by the end of our third quarter.

PPE proves to be powerful pivot for Surry County marketing firm, manufacturer

Life was good … until it wasn’t.

Success was plentiful … until it was scarce.

The future looked sunny … until the fog rolled in.

The global coronavirus pandemic spread illness and death around the world, and North Carolina was not spared. Covid-19 changed everything, even in serene Surry County.

The virus forced local businesses to adapt or perish. Some hunkered down. Some threw in the towel. And at least two saw an opportunity to do some good.

The pandemic pivots of Xtreme! Marketing in Pilot Mountain and United Sewing Automation in Mount Airy not only enabled the companies to survive but have helped people in the process.

Both companies saw an alarming shortage of medical Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and decided to adapt their businesses to do something about it.

“March seems like so long ago,” says Ben Webb, co-founder of United Sewing. “I’ve learned something every day while operating in this new time. The lessons are everywhere. You learn how to operate a factory with people who you need to keep safe. You’ve got to protect your workforce, while at the same time trying to do business and figuring out how to operate within space restrictions with people properly distanced. It’s just a different time.”

Webb pauses a moment, thinking over the turbulent year that was.

“Every day,” he says at last, “you’re figuring out a way to overcome a challenge that Covid has created.”
Fifteen miles away, Xtreme’s founder and CEO John Tarn remembers his own Covid lessons and harbors one regret.

“We had right around 20 employees before the pandemic. We went down to nine or 10,” Tarn says. “We learned a lesson that you’ve got to pivot with that quicker. But we’re building back now, and we’ve hired some of our people back, getting back to where we need to be. … We’re going to grow. When we come through this on the other side, we’re going to add more (employees) than before.”
The pandemic hit Tarn’s business like an unblocked linebacker.

Xtreme! Marketing is in the business of making other businesses look good. From its headquarters on East Main Street in Pilot Mountain, the company works for clients the likes of Coca-Cola, the PGA Tour, Jack Daniel’s, Korbel, and Dell.
Xtreme! can do things as simple as printing business cards and as complicated as custom fabrication and fancy vehicle wraps.

“We’re a holistic marketing company, and 99 percent of what we do is done in-house,” Tarn says. When companies come to Xtreme! needing, say, business cards, “we can also supply everything else they might need. Say we’re going to a trade show and they need special rack cards or pamphlets, we can produce them and bring them with us. And we can fabricate a custom display. And they don’t have to worry about shipping any of it, because we can do that ourselves.”

One of the company’s specialties is using lasers to do custom engraving on materials including metal, wood, plastic, or plexiglass.

The lasers became the source of Xtreme’s PPE pivot.

“Covid affected us in a big way. Right off the bat, we lost about 250 events nationwide,” Tarn says. “That cut deeply into our top line. But then we got the idea to produce PPE. We made face shields and custom sneeze guards, all done on our lasers.”

In the early days of the pivot, Xtreme! donated 800 face shields to local businesses that needed them. Then the company started making another version of the face shields that could be mass-produced and sold, a transparent plastic screen resembling a clear welder’s mask.

Xtreme! didn’t need to invest in additional equipment, Tarn says, but rather find a source for the plastic – a company in Connecticut came through. It programmed its own existing lasers to make the shields.

“We have an in-house design team,” he says. “Depending on the day, we’ll have four or five designers rolling full-time, designing everything we need and also coming up with designs for our clients – trade-show displays, graphics, anything you can think of.”

Tarn’s company always leaned heavily on social media, and that’s become even important during the pandemic. And he has used his platforms to help promote other Pilot Mountain businesses during these lean times.

“I’ve learned several lessons during this pandemic,” Tarn says. “No. 1, speed is of the essence. You’ve got to pivot quickly. When we lost all those trade-show displays, we pivoted immediately – not only to the PPE but also to expanding our expedited shipping.”

His brand ambassadors couldn’t visit trade shows anymore, but it redirected its fleet of trucks and Sprinter vans to do expedited shipping around the country.

“All the while, we’re still preparing for when trade shows start to open back up.”

The pandemic has also been a chance to reflect and reevaluate.

“You know, this has allowed us to go more local, whereas we were more national before, working with multi-billion-dollar companies around the country,” Tarn says. “We’ve had to focus more local, and we’ve realized how important that is. We’re tied tightly to our community and local partnerships.

“We’ve also realized the power of marketing. When most people are laying back in a crisis, we decided to put more money into our marketing, our branding, our promotions. We’ve doubled down on that. We were building a strong sales force prior to Covid, and the pandemic messed us up. But we’re back to investing in our sales team now.”

Surgical masks
In the early days of the pandemic, United Sewing Automation co-founders Ben Webb, Rob Roach, and Brad Ballentine never expected their business to revolve around disposable medical-grade surgical masks.
Webb already had a successful business with Fish Hippie and its apparel line when they opened United Sewing next door.

“With Fish Hippie, everything was rockin’ and rollin’, and life was good,” Webb says. “And then we started experiencing a malaise in things earlier in 2019 for the product that was to be landing in the spring of 2020. We saw some things coming up on the horizon, but we really didn’t think too much about it. And then, the pandemic hit.”

Webb said the founders were just starting to figure out how to pivot the business in dealing with changing economies.

“We went to our supplier network to see if we could start sourcing PPE. Of course, it was all produced overseas, but we were able to find some quality manufacturers and we were able to help out several hospitals.”

But the partners were disappointed with the overseas goods. Some of the PPE came with dubious documentation.

“The amount of fraudulent test data we saw, well, it made you wonder. Are these goods real?” Webb says. “They were sending in just really questionable supporting information. And our frontline responders are putting their lives on the line wearing this stuff. Did we really want to put our name behind those products when we couldn’t verify they would perform like they were supposed to? No, we didn’t.”

Assuring that health care providers were protected was a priority.

“They need to have confidence,” Webb said. “They need to know when they purchase something from us that the product is safe and the product is right and will provide the level of protection they need. We can help with that.”

United Sewing could help by doing the work itself. The company found and bought equipment to produce its own ASTM Level 3 three-ply surgical masks, disposable masks rated over 99 percent effective at bacterial filtration efficiency (BFE) and particle filtration efficiency (PFE) protection.

It makes masks locally, with raw materials from the Carolinas, Georgia, Indiana, and Connecticut.
“The reliance on foreign-made goods was an eye-opener for me,” Roach says. “It was crazy to me to see the reliance on Asian-made medical equipment, from face masks to gloves to gowns. Our frontline workers in our hospital systems and state departments, they were struggling to find well-vetted, quality products in March, April and May. … It was shocking, breathtaking to me to see there was no domestic manufacturer of PPE outside of a couple mom-and-pop shops. There was no one pumping out millions of masks or gloves or gowns to meet the need.”

United Sewing wasn’t an overnight success. It took time to get registered with the FDA, more time for testing and certifications. March turned to April, then May, then June before the company was fully operational and made its first delivery in July.

North Carolina came first, and eventually, the company expanded deliveries across the country.

“We did it the right way,” Webb says. “We didn’t create this as a flash in the pan business just to answer the pandemic. We’re creating a long-term business that’s here to support all of our hospitals and government agencies for a long time to come. We started this as quickly as we could, but the focus was on making sure our foundation was built correctly.”

“Ultimately, we want our products to symbolize accessibility for everyone in the country who needs a face mask, no matter their living situation or work environment.” — Rob Roach
United Sewing employs about 50 people, with 20 people working first and second shifts in its factory. The company produces has the capacity to produce 1 million masks per week, sending them to hospitals as far away as Washington state and Maine, as well as several Veterans Administration medical facilities.

A 10-pack of masks costs $6.99, and the company offers bulk discounts as well as a subscription service that cuts the cost to around 52 cents per mask. The company in January launched a wholesale website to streamline bulk ordering for business customers. It then in February launched a “One-for-One” donation campaign that will provide up to 10 million free masks to adults and children in high exposure living and work settings nationally.

“Ultimately, we want our products to symbolize accessibility for everyone in the country who needs a face mask, no matter their living situation or work environment,” Roach said. “From health care workers to teachers, to custodians, or those living in shared or temporary housing, we want every American to have the same standard of protection USA’s masks uniquely offer.”

The goal is to be a profitable business while meeting a need.

“We’re not a nonprofit. We’re in business to make money,” Roach says. “But we’re also here to answer the call and provide a high-quality good for fellow North Carolinians and fellow Americans. It hit home for us: Why are we getting these masks from overseas? And we were seeing … so much fraud in the marketplace. Well, we wanted to do things the right way. We wanted to keep people truly safe, and maybe make some money along the way. It was a good fit.”

Nester Hosiery honored by Governor

Nester Hosiery honored by Governor

A Mount Airy firm was among more than a dozen honored earlier this month with the 2020 Governor’s Export Awards.

Nester Hosiery Inc., of Mount Airy, was one of 13 North Carolina firms to win the award, recognized as one of the state’s top rural exporters.

“Growing our global business has been a core initiative for us, all the while remaining true to our North Carolina roots,” said Matt Brucker, vice president of sales at Nester Hosiery. “We produce some of the most innovative socks in the world and do everything with an eye on our communities, both locally and globally. We are well-positioned for the future as we continue to build solid, mutually beneficial relationships with our customers, brands, and licensing partners.”

Nester is a long-time textile firm known for its footwear, particularly its Farm to Feet socks, which are made exclusively from American-made raw materials, in U.S.-based plants. The company has also been successful in recent years in securing a large military contract, and retooling some of its production facilities to make PPE needed by healthcare and other workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Gov. Roy Cooper’s office, the 13 winners “range from a small wooden-boat builder in southeast North Carolina to one of the largest pharmaceutical manufacturers in the world.”

“These diverse companies raise the profile of North Carolina-made products around the world, promoting excellence in goods and services made possible by the exceptional workforce in our state. Today, we honor these companies for the way their exports promote the North Carolina economy, their grit during tough economic times, and the more than 412,000 jobs they support state-wide,” Cooper said.

Each of the manufacturers being recognized has turned to the state for help increasing its international sales. These free services are delivered through the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina which selects award winners from the more than 600 companies its international trade team supports each year.

Nester Hosiery, the state said, consulted with the state economic development partnership overseas trade offices and used partnership-administered federal grants to help pay for trade show participation in Germany.

In addition to Nester, the other award-winners, and where they are based, include: Advanced Superabrasives Inc. in Madison County; C.R. Onsrud Inc. in Iredell County; Budsin Electric Boats in Carteret County; Latitude Aero in Guilford County; Grady-White Boats in Pitt County;

Novo Nordisk in Johnston County; sGlen Raven Inc. in Alamance County; Nufabrx in Catawba County; Redeye Worldwide in Orange County; Tactical Support Equipment in Cumberland County; DGL Logistics in Mecklenburg County; Sharyn Koenig of the Export-Import Bank of the United States

“We assist manufacturers with everything from export-education seminars and foreign market intelligence to trade show support and introductions to international distributors,” said John Loyack, Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina vice president for global business services.

“And since the pandemic shut down international travel and in-person trade events, we’re helping more exporters pivot to doing business virtually,” Loyack said. “That includes leveraging grants that help manufacturers pay for exhibiting in online trade shows, or for translation and search engine optimization of their website in other countries.”

“The resources and assistance provided by the Surry County Economic Development Partnership, the City of Mount Airy, the Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce and Surry Community College were essential to the success of our start up venture.”
Andrew Clabough

President, Willow Tex

Contact Us

Surry County Economic Development Partnership, Inc.
1218 State St.,
Mt. Airy NC 27030
PO BOX 7128
336.401.9900

Contact Us

Surry County Economic Development Partnership Inc. 1218 State St., Mt. Airy NC 27030
PO BOX 7128
336.401.9900

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