Surry County NewsRead about new business, events and news that effects life and commerce in the western Piedmont Triad.
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.”
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.”
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.”
First Youth R.N. Apprenticeship Program in N.C. Begins at Northern Regional Hospital with Surry-Yadkin Works Interns
Dobson, NC – February 11, 2021. The first youth apprentice program for registered nurses in
North Carolina started with 13 Surry-Yadkin Works interns who began working as employees of
Northern Regional Hospital in January. Twelve of the students were hired as certified nursing
assistants, and one is employed as a patient care technician. “This creative apprentice program is consistent with Northern Regional Hospital’s mission and philosophy of investing in people and our community. Collaborating with our local public school systems and Surry Community College embraces our approach to ‘growing your own’ talent to address a nursing shortage while also helping students achieve their professional aspirations. If
we invest in people, they will in return invest in us,” said Chris A. Lumsden, President and Chief
Executive Officer, Northern Regional Hospital.
This special opportunity is a part of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Apprenticeship program and
the state’s ApprenticeshipNC program through the N.C. Community College System Office that
combines a paid work-based learning experience with classroom academics leading to a national
certification. These students have the opportunity to earn free tuition for the Associate Degree
Nursing program through Surry Community College that allows students to become registered
nurses. Northern Regional Hospital is also registering students for licensed practical nurse
apprenticeships. “Originally, we were offering seven pre-apprentice opportunities; however, we were so
impressed with the students that we expanded our internship placement to 13 students,” said
Christi Smiley, Human Resource Director, Northern Regional Hospital.
The students went through an extensive interview process where they were pre-screened and
then interviewed by a hospital committee and evaluated in many areas including
communication skills, enthusiasm, confidence, professionalism, program knowledge, and
evidence of preparation for a career in healthcare.
“A major component of the apprenticeship program is a mentorship that provides one-on-one
support to the apprentices. We matched each student with a mentor in seven of the hospital’s
departments – Intensive Care Unit, Medical Surgical Unit, Step Down Unit, Skilled Nursing,
Obstetrics, Emergency Department, and Operating Room. We wanted the students to have well-rounded
experiences and place them in a department with a mentor that suited their
personality, strengths, and career goals.”
The students began their apprenticeships on January 11, and they will work through May 15.
They will receive high school or college credit for their employment along with a stipend each
month for travel expenses.
The students are: Laney Cave, Carrie McKeaver, and Ashley Sewell of Surry Central High School;
Jenny Cortes and Natalie Evans of Mount Airy High School; Tynlee Jones and Julie Marshall of
East Surry High School; Katie Kellam of Elkin High School; Eryn O’Neal and Annsley Puckett of
North Surry High School; Emily Santiago Orellana of Surry Early College High School; Anna
Serrano of Starmount High School; and Reagan Wooten of Forbush High School.
“We have a nursing shortage in the nation, and the apprenticeship program is a way to increase
the number of qualified nurses locally and regionally. These students can get paid while going to
school to earn their credentials and finish their education debt-free,” Smiley said. “I would like
to see this apprenticeship program grow to include other hospitals and medical practices in a
synergistic relationship to recruit and retain qualified medical professionals for our region
through a healthcare consortium.”
Surry-Yadkin Works is the first community-based internship program of its kind in North
Carolina, officially beginning on January 1, 2021, covering a two-county region. The program has
hit the ground running with 50 students being placed in internships for Spring 2021
semester. Surry-Yadkin Works is the collaborative effort of four public school systems in Surry
and Yadkin counties including Elkin City Schools, Mount Airy City Schools, Surry County Schools,
and Yadkin County Schools, as well as Surry Community College, to create an innovative and
unique approach to a regional internship program. The funding is also a joint effort with
commitments from the Surry County Commissioners and the Yadkin County Commissioners. An
anonymous contributor donated $100,000 prompted by a presentation about the program at an
A virtual kickoff event will be held March 9, for Surry-Yadkin Works business partners and those
businesses who would like to join the effort.
The Surry-Yadkin Works pre-apprentices, who are employed at Northern Regional Hospital,
are top to bottom, left to right: Laney Cave, Carrie McKeaver, and Ashley Sewell of Surry Central
High School; Jenny Cortes and Natalie Evans of Mount Airy High School; Tynlee Jones and Julie
Marshall of East Surry High School; Katie Kellam of Elkin High School; Eryn O’Neal and Annsley Puckett of North Surry High School; Emily Santiago Orellana of Surry Early College High School; Anna Serrano of Starmount High School; and Reagan Wooten of Forbush High School.
The mission of Surry-Yadkin Works is to support the economic vitality of the region by matching
interns with business partners to meet the needs of the community. Elkin City Schools, Mount
Airy City Schools, Surry County Schools, and Yadkin County Schools along with Surry Community
College will prepare students for work-based learning, assist with industry-recognized
credentials, and aid in enrolling in career and technical college courses. In addition, we will
provide mutually beneficial links between students and employers with the goal of increasing
skilled workers in our community.
One bright spot surrounding COVID-19 has been the ways the local business community has restructured operations to meet needs prompted by the pandemic, something that continues to impress Barbara Jones.
“There have been so many businesses that have gone above and beyond that, it is hard to mention all or pick out just one,” Jones, the city manager of Mount Airy, commented late last week.
“Everyone was and is still using their business talents to help this community survive this terrible pandemic,” Jones added.
One of the most recent examples involves a local business known only by the code name “Project Sew” at this point. It is seeking a state grant aimed at allowing operations to expand and adding 35 workers for the production of personal protective equipment (PPE), a plan announced in January.
A shortage of such items — including face masks and sanitizing products — quickly emerged as the coronavirus began taking hold last year.
Local businesses responded in meaningful ways, according to a list provided by the city manager, which she and Surry County officials agree showcased those entities’ versatility and ability to adapt. A check of the history books will reveal the same type of response during World War II when companies retooled to supply items needed for America’s military efforts.
Jones’ list cites the roles of Renfro Corp., Surry Chemical, United Sewing Automation, Nester Hosiery, Unique Background Solutions, Workforce Unlimited, Granite Tactical Vehicles, Gates Pharmacy, Professional Rental Services, Pine State Marketing, J’s Office Supplies, and Awesome Products.
She included those as “examples of local companies who developed new product lines and services that helped our region respond to the many personal protective product shortages that were created by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Such efforts directly addressed those critical needs, according to Jones.
“Local businesses began manufacturing and distributing masks — Renfro Corp., Nester Hosiery, Fish Hippie/United Sewing, to mention a few,” she detailed. “We had Surry Chemicals producing hand sanitizer, Gene Rees’ business making and distributing masks, and the list goes on.”
A similar list provided by Surry County further included such entities as U.S Ecology, Surry Machine and Fabrication, Tampco, Sport Solutions and Brown & Church/Gitman Brothers, which ventured into the sanitation or PPE industries while reflecting a keen entrepreneurial spirit.
The city manager says credit also is due to others that aren’t directly engaged in manufacturing but who have made contributions all the same.
“Our trucking companies I am sure have put in many long, hard hours getting food and merchandise to our grocery stores and related vendors to make sure people had food and supplies to keep their homes and businesses safe,” Jones mentioned.
“During this pandemic, numerous business owners went the extra mile to serve their patrons and provide food,” she pointed out regarding another key resource.
“Grocery stores and other retail vendors put up plexiglass for safety and marked areas for six-foot distancing as people were shopping to provide food and supplies for their families.”
Although it is engaged in a different kind of sanitation focus, Illinois Tool Works, doing business as ITW Texwipe, is setting up shop in Mount Airy at the former Hanesbrands plant on West Pine Street.
Texwipe is a global manufacturer of contamination-control supplies which is investing more than $4.5 million in the local operation — including buying the property.
The company closed on the purchase of the former Hanesbrand building on Jan. 20, according to Todd Tucker, president of the Surry County Economic Development Partnership.
Mount Airy officials voted on Jan. 21 to accept a performance-based grant of $75,000 from the One North Carolina Fund to help facilitate Texwipe’s expansion, which includes the creation of 33 jobs.
Texwipe is described as an innovative provider of contamination-control supplies and critical cleaning products for activities requiring sanitized manufacturing or other operational settings, including life sciences, semiconductor and other industries and environmental sampling.
The company announced last year that it was tuned in to the pandemic in terms of its product lines: “Texwipe fully supports the efforts to minimize the effects of this humanitarian crisis and will continue to monitor the situation to ensure consistent supply.”
Everything we do at Mount Airy City Schools is directed to move all students to graduation, ready for their future careers. Many of them will attend a two- or four-year college leading to these careers, but several will go to work right after high school. The NextGen program along with our NASCAR/RCR partnership work closely with our Career and Technical Education (CTE) program to boast of more than 150 students each year involved in shadowing, internships, and paid job experiences that help students decide what their future holds. Our K-12 framework outlines how students begin job-ready skills and communication in kindergarten and grow throughout their academic career.
We will be graduating students soon who are fluent in at least two languages. Nearly 25% of our classes have been involved in our dual language immersion program. This program has provided students the opportunity to learn everything in Spanish and English beginning in kindergarten. All K-5 students are enrolled in Spanish where they learn language, history, and culture. All employers need bi-lingual workers to ensure success today.
Our Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM) framework makes sure that all students problem-solve each year. Employers often share examples of how applicants struggle with problem-solving skills. Mount Airy City Schools is equipping our students with this needed skill. The Leader in Me Program along with our leadership programs at middle and high school show students how to set their own goals, work hard to achieve those goals, communicate well, and dedicate themselves to self-improvement. Our academic excellence in core instruction is among the top in the state. All of these pieces of the Mount Airy City Schools framework lead to graduates ready and willing to be productive in the workforce in Surry County.
The Career and Technical Education program outlines opportunities for students from middle school through high school. We have career pathways that allow students to explore early and meet our industry leaders in Surry County. In the Career Cafe at Mount Airy Middle School, Kasey Martin brings in various industries throughout our community to have a “lunch and learn” with the students who might be interested in that industry.
At Mount Airy High School, we have the Bear C.A.V.E. (Counseling, Advising, and Vocational Exploration) where students meet with career development coordinators and college advisors. We also host a variety of programs including guest speakers and the Career and College Conversations program in the media center during lunches twice a month.
Some of the pathways we offer are health sciences, bio-technology, family and consumer science, marketing/entrepreneurship, science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics, public service (fire, rescue and police) and trade and industrial. We have classes such as Pharmacy Tech and Nursing Fundamentals as well as courses focusing on drafting, woodworking, entrepreneurship, and drones. We also offer honors level courses, Advanced Placement courses, and courses for college credit. Career and Technical Student Organizations (CTSO) develop leadership skills as many of our students have received both national and international recognition. These CTE pathways are among the top in the state scoring in the top 10 percent on assessments in CTE.
Our CTE pathways have allowed 112 students to obtain a minimum of 12 hours of college credit or an AAS degree. The three-year data trend for Mount Airy City Schools students to achieve credentials is 383 earned credentials. This number of credentials for work-force readiness is amazing. These credentials allow students to earn certifications and job skills in areas such as graphic design, woodworking, AutoCad, nurse aide, and culinary. The number of students who have completed at least 100 hours of work experience through internships or other work-based learning activities is 128 students.
Our number of official business partners is 37. Businesses such as Shenandoah Furniture, Northern Regional Hospital, Johnson Granite, Surry Animal Medical Services, Carport Central, Choice Physical Therapy, Mount Airy Country Club, and Interlam Design, LLC have allowed students to intern or shadow. Internships now offer an honors tract, allowing students to gain 135 hours in a business, build a resume, and learn valuable employability skills. Courses like Career Management are also offered, in addition to XELLO, a digital platform that allows students to complete assessments, identify employment interests, and explore career options.
Our programs are award-winning with HOSA (Future Health Professionals) being one of the top chapters in North Carolina. This program’s history of excellence created a demand for a second health educator at MAHS and the expansion of the program to middle school. Both levels are experiencing success in the many levels of competition. In the 2019 regional competition, we had eight members place first place, four second place, one in third place for various events with over 600 competitors.
In 2020, virtual state competition, Mount Airy High School had 11 students place first, second or third place with over 1,800 in attendance. In the national competition of 2020, students earned one first place, one second place, and five top ten finalists among approximately 25,000 competitors. 2020-2021 NC HOSA Piedmont Region has five officer positions and all but one were students attending Mount Airy High School. There are currently 58 9th-12th graders participating in HOSA, despite the pandemic. HOSA coordinator Lynn Snow received the Honorary Lifetime Member award and is over competitive events for the state. These experiences contribute to our overall student success and align with the high demand for jobs in the healthcare sector.
We know that our workforce readiness is widely recognized as among the top in the region by the measures the state puts out each year. Our Workkeys Data for our most recent year boasts top in the region with 79.6% of our students receiving a silver certificate or higher, earning the National Career Readiness Certificate verifying foundational workplace skills. We are also top in SAT among the districts in our area with 1129 as an average score exceeding the state’s average of 1089. The ACT composite is 19.7 over the state’s average of 18.4. This year, so far, the college advisor has met with 84% of seniors 1-on-1, who have submitted 57+ applications to trade, 2-year, or 4-year colleges, despite the pandemic and remote learning. These numbers continue to rise daily. Total Financial Aid Assisted (FAFSA + Alternative Financial Aid) for MAHS in 2020 is 88%, compared to the state average of 39.55%.
Our students understand what a great advantage they have compared to others when they go to college. Here are a few quotes from our graduates:
– Chase Pruett: “The RCR internship was an excellent opportunity for me to explore more career paths in my field.”
– Daniel Troutman: “RCR provided many opportunities to explore many job fields and this helped me get the job I have today and helped me with what I wanted to study in college.”
– Drew Tilley: “RCR was an awesome experience and provided great career insight.”
– Grant Routh: “Deciding to intern at Delp Chiropractic is one of the best decisions I have ever made. This opportunity made me truly realize the path I want to pursue and the connections I have made through this experience are immeasurable in value to me.”
– Tessa Stovall: “My time at Surrey Bank has been an incredible experience. From becoming an employee, I have gained so much confidence with the trust they put in me and have been fortunate enough to gain so much real-world experience. I can not thank Mr. Ashby and Mrs. Hensley enough for such a life-changing opportunity.”
– Reid Perry: “Interning at the Mount Airy News has been a very hands-on experience. I have had the opportunity to interview people of interest and write articles about them too. It hasn’t at all been a situation where I am only shrugged off and given busy work, it has been very rewarding. I plan to be a communications major in college and this experience will set me apart for school and employment options.”
Mount Airy City Schools is excited that our future workforce is being developed now. Our community has embraced our students and created great partnerships with us. We know these students and all students benefit from work based experience in school. We are glad many of our families are choosing Mount Airy City Schools this year and our future is bright with such outstanding students, well equipped to be a strong workforce for Surry County.
Pike Enterprises, LLC was recently selected to participate in the U.S. Army Partnership for Youth Success Program.
Program partners sign an agreement to provide job interviews and potential employment to separating soldiers. Interviews are guaranteed to program soldiers upon completion of their training and/or first term of service, provided all other requirements are met.
As part of this program, military occupational specialties are matched with civilian jobs. Army reservists and Army National Guard soldiers are eligible to interview immediately upon completion of training.
“The program provides America’s youth with an opportunity to serve their country, while they prepare for their future,” the Mount Airy-based Pike Enterprises said in a release about the program. “Soldiers learn technical skills required by industry and selected government agencies; along with work ethics, teamwork, communication, and leadership during their enlistment in the United States Army.”
The company, along with Army officials, held a ceremony last week to commemorate the partnership.
The Elkin School Board on Tuesday celebrated the announcement that Elkin High School’s 2019-20 graduation rate of 96.7 percent was among the top 10 in the state. There are more than 600 traditional public and charter high schools across the state, according to N.C. Department of Instruction data.
The achievement was the highest graduation rate the high school has tallied in the past six years, said Superintendent Dr. Myra Cox. She commended the staff “for their focus on building positive relationships with their students.”
Among the board’s actions, Tuesday was voting to reappropriate previously unspent COVID-relief funds after the spending rules were given greater flexibility by regulators. Under the new guidelines, the district was able to purchase 165 Chromebooks, which allowed the district to bring the student-to-computer ratio for third-graders to 1:1 and also ensured grades kindergarten through second have classroom sets.
“At the 11th hour, we got the opportunity to move those (funds) around… we took advantage of that,” said Business and Financial Services Director Jan Zachary. “We were able to get those computers in before Christmas, which was a miracle in itself” because school computer purchasing has seen backlogs due to pandemic demand.
Surry County Health Director Samantha Ange presented an update on COVID-19 to the board, including a data presentation of 1,195 active cases in the county and 111 deaths to date as of Tuesday. Data from so far this January showed that approximately 15% of cases have been among those age 19 or younger — a statistic that has held relatively steady among the school-age population since the pandemic began, she said.
In response to board members’ questions, Ange said teachers will be eligible to receive vaccinations for the virus in Phase 3 of the state vaccination plan. The state is currently in Phase 2, which allows health care workers and older adults to receive vaccines. Ange said that approximately 73,000 people in Surry County are age 65 or older, and the county is only receiving about 1,300 vaccines from the state per week and administering them the same week. While the number of vaccines released to Surry County has been steadily increasing each week, it will still take a while to get all older adults vaccinated before moving on to Phase 3 when teachers are eligible.
In other business, the board took the first reading of several district policy updates that were suggested not in response to internal concerns, but instead as best practices recommended by the state school boards association. Policy updates included expanded detail governing teacher-student electronic communication and social media to address additional technologies used in response to the pandemic, and also formalizing the requirement that employees must provide a health certificate prior to returning to work following isolation due to COVID-19 isolation or known exposure.
The return-to-work health certificate process has already been in place since the beginning of the school year and the addition of it to written policy is a formality, Cox said. The board will vote on the proposed policy amendments next month.
Also at the meeting, the board welcomed student representative Reanna Rice and recognized teacher Randee Summers as the 2020 Exceptional Children Educator of Excellence. Rice, who is student council president of Elkin High School, attended Tuesday for the first time due to the high school not being able to hold student council elections until later during this pandemic year.
On a quest to uncover the perfect wedding venue — somewhere with picturesque scenery and a plethora of great, local wine — Jeremy and Krystle Stamps stumbled upon Elkin. They didn’t know it at the time, but the discovery would change the trajectory of their lives.
After getting married at Elkin Creek Winery, the couple returned to Orlando, where both had jobs working for Disney World — Jeremy in stage production and Krystle helping develop costumes for Disney, Marvel, Pixar, and Star Wars characters.
But the small North Carolina town always called them back. “We would visit Elkin 10 days at a time and hang out and go to a local cabin and local wineries,” Jeremy says. And in 2017, when the two oenophiles found themselves ready for a lifestyle change, Elkin felt like the obvious choice — plus, the town presented a new career opportunity.
An Oenophile’s Paradise
“There are probably 30 to 45 wineries within a half-hour from here, and all of them close at 5 o’clock. So if it’s Wednesday, and you’re hanging out in your cabin for 10 days, and it’s 8 o’clock, where are you going to go?” Jeremy says. “I felt like there was a huge economic opportunity.”
Answering the call, he and Krystle opened The Wisdom Table, a wine bar and shop in the old Belk’s department storefront, an 11,000-square-foot space in downtown Elkin. It’s a full retail hub, with about half the inventory stocked from North Carolina vineyards and the other half full of classics from France, Italy, Spain, South Africa, and Greece.
Patrons can taste a variety of grapes at the space’s bar, which Jeremy built himself. “The Wisdom Table is a local hangout for all the wine nerds and winemakers, a place to come in and try everyone else’s wine,” he says.
Those dozens of wineries are accessible safely, too: The Elkin Vine Line service offers five different tour itineraries in their “Wine Hoppers” — 12-passenger vans that stop at four different vineyards. Whether it’s the dry Tempranillo at Jones Von Drehle or the traditional sparkling at Raffaldini, each line is tailored for a particular tasting experience. And no matter which wineries you visit, you’re sure to hear a variety of live music — including at Jones Von Drehle, where a new 1,000-seat amphitheater will soon host concerts and events.
“When tobacco fell out and smoking started getting banned in North Carolina, there was a huge push to [change tobacco farmland] to vineyards,” Jeremy explains. “Agritourism is the way to go, because it not only helps the grower and winemaker but it helps the hotels, it helps the restaurants, it helps everyone.”
A Place to Call Home
Elkin’s surrounding wineries and vineyards drove the Stamps’s decision to move, but soon after they settled in, they had cause to learn about another local industry. “I pulled my back out once when I was building the bar,” Jeremy remembers, “and from the time I left our shop to the time I saw a doctor at Hugh Chatham was 12 minutes — including the drive over there.”
Hugh Chatham Memorial Hospital, built in the early 1930s, is an anchor of one of Elkin’s other primary industries: health care. With its strategic location on the Yadkin River, the town used to be a mill-centered community, and the Chatham family established wool and cotton mills as firm economic drivers. (To learn more about the history of Elkin and the Chatham family, watch this video.) The rise of spirits and wine, as well as the expansion of health services in the area, has filled the space left behind when that industry dried up. The former, however, continues to pull new residents in with entrepreneurial visions.
Keith Stringer, a chef at the Harvest Grill — part of the Shelton Vineyards property — who also makes desserts for the Wisdom Table, moved from Raleigh to Elkin with his wife, Holly, in 2017. Keith had spent years in kitchens: Humble Pie in Raleigh, Coharie Country Club in Clinton, even a lobster shack in Maine. When he and Holly first began visiting Elkin, they realized it was lacking an experience many wine tourists might enjoy: a bed and breakfast.
“We’d been out to California, in the Napa Valley, and there were bed and breakfasts all over the place, going from small and intimate to larger. We started talking about maybe doing that type of business out here,” Keith says. “We got a little bit more serious when my daughter went to Appalachian State. We would stop in Elkin on the way up and on the way back and sample a few of the vineyards and just fell in love with the area.”
The Stringers’ Six28 House is set to open in May in a 100-year-old renovated house near downtown. It’ll only be a few rooms to start, but Keith plans a full breakfast on the weekends and wine-paired meals on Friday and Saturday nights, in coordination with local growers.
Wine may be Elkin’s dominant libation, but other liquid options give locals and visitors plenty of choices. Skull Camp Brewing’s taproom offers dozens of beers and a food menu full of smoked options — even their burgers feature house-smoked meat. Angry Troll Brewery offers those strolling around downtown Elkin a full barcade alongside wood-fired pizzas and brews.
Another Raleigh transplant, Amanda Edgerley, landed in Elkin three years ago. In December of 2019, she opened Fruition, a cocktail bar just two blocks down from The Wisdom Table.
“I saw the opportunity to start a business here: a small town, up-and-coming, property was affordable, and the people are awesome,” Edgerley says. “I love the fact that we’re near the river and the mountains — a combination of everything.”
With close access to the Blue Ridge Parkway, a series of hiking trails, and river activities like canoeing and kayaking, Elkin has the weekend getaway appeal. But even for local entrepreneurs who’ve found a way to transform their vacations into everyday life, the town’s culinary scene keeps things new and fresh. Like El Ahorro’s authentic Mexican offerings (“Some of the best Mexican food I’ve found in the entire state,” Jeremy says) and Prime Thai’s knack for pairing entrées with a number of the region’s wines.
“We get a huge amount of traffic of people coming from Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York,” Jeremy says. “It’s definitely one of those places — we would come up here and try every single winery and we couldn’t get through all of them in one week.”
And while Elkin is a perfect place for a getaway, the Stamps think it’s an even better place to live. After all, as they can attest, why visit when you can simply stay forever?
While high school internship programs are nothing new, one such offering put together jointly by four area school systems and Surry Community College is being touted as the first of its kind in North Carolina.
The program, Surry-Yadkin Works, officially got underway Jan. 1. Stretching across two counties, the program is a collaboration between Mount Airy City Schools, Surry County Schools, Elkin City Schools and Yadkin County Schools, along with the community college, to create a regional internship program.
The program has hit the ground running with 48 students being placed in internships for the Spring 2021 semester.
After attending a human resources development training, the students began their internships on Jan. 11, and will work through May 15. Students receive high school or college credit for their employment along with a stipend each month for travel expenses.
The program funding also is a joint effort with commitments from the Surry County and the Yadkin County boards of commissioners. An anonymous contributor donated $100,000 prompted by a presentation about the program at an educational summit.
“We are excited that our school districts in the region will be coordinating our workforce development initiatives,” said Dr. Kim Morrison, superintendent of Mount Airy City Schools. “This allows our employers in the area to work closely with our school systems to prepare the next generation of the workforce to stay in Surry County and have careers in which they thrive.
“We look forward to partnering with our colleagues in these districts preparing our students to reach their dreams.”
“I am so proud of the Surry-Yadkin Works partnership. … This partnership was created because of a recognized regional need to expand experiential learning and work-based learning opportunities for students,” said Dr. Travis Reeves, Surry County Schools superintendent.
“By putting students in local businesses, they learn soft skills including the development of a strong work ethic, a positive attitude and problem-solving while earning industry credentials and getting paid,”said Reeves. “I am appreciative of the commitment of the Surry County and Yadkin County commissioners, as well as anonymous donors who have helped to fund this effort.”
“All of the school partners have equal representation in what is truly a regional effort to create work-based opportunities for our students by creating a unifying organization for companies seeking interns,” said Dr. David Shockley, SCC president.
“Surry-Yadkin Works is special in that it covers two counties with the commissioners committing funding to the program for three years,” said Shockley. “It is unique in the state, if not the nation, especially for rural America. We are strong as individual organizations, but we are even stronger united. This partnership will also help our economic developers because they can tout the program to help attract and maintain businesses in our region.”
Crystal Folger-Hawks is the program director for Surry-Yadkin Works, and Dale Badgett is the workforce development specialist for Surry-Yadkin Works.
A virtual kickoff event is being planned on March 9, for Surry-Yadkin Works business partners and those businesses who would like to join the effort.
A Mount Airy-based commercial property owner and manager has acquired the L.S. Starrett Co. facility in Mount Airy, with plans to fill unused space with new tenants while also retaining Starrett’s operations there.
Wise Storage Solutions has acquired the 320,000-square-foot facility from Starrett, and has already identified a national steel company and an international furniture maker to occupy vacant space in the building.
Tool-maker L.S. Starrett will continue to operate in its current space, occupying just less than one-third of the building. The approximately 20-acre property is at 1372 Boggs Drive.
“We are very pleased to be able to complete this transaction with Wise Storage Systems, which is mutually beneficial for our employees, the city of Mount Airy and Surry County,” said L.S. Starrett President and CEO Douglas Starrett. “Our building has been underutilized over the last three years so this sale and leaseback will allow our personnel to stay close to home as we continue to operate our North America saw distribution and service center.”
Founded in 1880 and headquartered in Athol, Massachusetts, L.S. Starrett (NYSE: SCX) manufactures more than 5,000 variations of precision tools, gauges, measuring instruments and saw blades for industrial, professional and consumer markets worldwide.
Starrett operates six manufacturing plants in the U.S. that employ 690, and three plants in Brazil, Scotland and China that employ 720. The Mount Airy plant employs approximately 50.
In January 2018, Starrett wrote a letter to its Mount Airy employees stating the company could not sustain operations at its level at that time and that was trimming its workforce, according to a February 2018 story in the Mount Airy News.
The property was on the market for three years.
“We were excited to work with Doug and L.S. Starrett to keep this company in Mount Airy and to help additional companies find much-needed space in our market,” said Wise Storage Solutions President Dean Bray III. “We will be at full capacity in the building with the addition of two companies we have worked with to find space that meets their needs.”
Wise Storage Solutions, a division of Mount Airy-based Bray Properties, owns approximately 10 million square feet of warehouse space in the Carolinas. At a price of $5.5 million, the purchase of the Starrett property is the company’s most expensive to date, Wise Storage Solutions Property Manager Neal Willard told Triad Business Journal
“The Wise Storage Solutions team did a great job of working with L.S. Starrett to help them find a solution to their situation, and in the process helped other companies find space they needed to grow,” said Surry County Economic Development Partnership President Todd Tucker.
The companies moving into the building were not identified, but Willard described them as a national metalworks company that was seeking a presence in North Carolina, and a furniture maker that needed warehouse space, largely as staging for the bi-annual High Point Market.
“I firmly believe that if we didn’t make this deal when we did that Mount Airy, Surry County and maybe even northwest North Carolina would have been in danger of losing these opportunities to other areas of the state,” Willard said.
Surry County Economic Development Partnership, Inc.
1218 State St.,
Mt. Airy NC 27030
PO BOX 7128