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Surry County News

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

C-Suite Awards 2020: Chris Lumsden, CEO of Northern Regional Hospital

Chris Lumsden, president and CEO, Northern Regional Hospital

If you could have an alternate title what would it be? Chief people person

How long have you worked at your company? About two years

Birthplace? Alexandria, Virginia

What was your first job as a youth? At age 12, I had two part-time jobs — a paper route (shows my age) and mowing grass. My dad didn’t believe in idle time, and still doesn’t today.

In light of the Covid-19 virus, what is the biggest challenge you face right now in leading your company? Balancing our responsibility to protect our purpose (serving patients) and people (jobs) against the immense financial impact of Covid-19 is a tremendous challenge for NRH. An intense focus on purpose is particularly critical during a health care crisis when our patients and communities look to us for strength, predictability and stability. Most don’t know the details behind our weeks of meticulous Covid-19 preparedness planning nor the physical, emotional and financial pressures that we are now under as a regional community hospital. Our NRH team members, 1,000 people strong, place themselves in harm’s way every day caring for all patients while at the same time worrying about the financial and physical toll that this awful virus may or has placed on them and their families. My challenge is to ensure that each and every NRH caregiver knows that they are essential, their jobs are precious, and that I have their backs and will fight for them now and going forward. I feel confident that if I help protect people that people will in turn protect our mission and finances short and long term.

How has the Covid-19 crisis impacted how you relate to your employees, and what steps might you take in the weeks and months ahead to continue to motivate and encourage them? I have witnessed the “best of the best” in people at NRH during the past three months. Undoubtedly, hospitals are largely always prepared for a disaster or crisis of some sort. However, for most of us, the Covid-19 pandemic is thankfully a once-in-a-lifetime experience. This past early March, we planned for the worst and hoped for the best. It was an “all hands on deck” approach not knowing whether we might experience a Covid-19 patient surge weeks later. From daily communications and updates across our system to 30-minute virtual Covid-19 huddles three times a week (all recorded and posted for every NRH employee and stakeholder to review) to a multitude of other preparedness and intervention measures, as an award winning team, we aggressively focused on first protecting our team and also having the necessary supplies and equipment in-house to care for our service region. However, like almost all hospitals, what we’ve sadly seen is service volumes and revenue fall by 20 to 40% with unprecedented current and anticipated near future financial losses. This said, we will not allow short term financial concerns to define our long term mission nor distract us from smartly implementing growth plans, protecting our people and serving our community. We will continue to engage our NRH team through a leadership open door philosophy, weekly written CEO Friday reports/updates, executive rounding, employee opinion surveys, town hall meetings (when able), newly instituted employee educational assistance and nursing scholarship programs, and a host of other employee recognition activities. Now is the time to invest in the growth of our people.

How do you measure success? Although it’s important to measure business success by performance metrics, my measure of success is simply the favorable impact that I have had on people over my lifetime. As one of my mentors explained to me many years ago, “people always, in the end, vote their priorities with their time and money”. Rarely are people inspired by or remember achieving performance metrics. What most people remember is who helped them and who they helped to achieve personal and professional milestones. My measure of success is being a great family man and friend and helping as many people as possible to achieve their personal and professional aspirations.

Share one thing about yourself that would surprise people? I love the outdoors. As such, I buy and reclaim farmland and build fish ponds/lakes, ranging in size from 1 to 7 acres.

What do you like to do to relax and/or to have fun? Most sports, particularly golf, fishing, basketball (and now ping pong), and a glass of wine with family and friends.

SYEMC partners with North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives, Circle K to install electric vehicle DC fast charger

SYEMC partners with North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives, Circle K to install electric vehicle DC fast charger

DOBSON — Area electric vehicle owners and those traveling through Surry County have a new way to quickly get a lasting charge. Surry-Yadkin Electric Membership Corporation, in partnership with Circle K and North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives, the power supplier and statewide association for the state’s electric cooperatives, has installed and energized a new ChargePoint DC fast charger along the Interstate 77 corridor in Surry County.

Representatives of the partner organizations as well as area economic and county leaders gathered Tuesday, September 15, 2020, to cut the ribbon officially welcoming the new fast charging unit. The first of its kind for a 121-mile stretch of I-77 between Wytheville, Va., and Cornelius, N.C., the charger was installed and energized in July in the southwest corner of the Circle K parking lot on Zephyr Road at the I-77 Dobson Exit.

The fast charger can fully charge an all-electric vehicle in about 60 minutes, allowing the vehicle to travel about 300 miles for $27.

North Carolina’s electric cooperatives, including Surry-Yadkin EMC (SYEMC), have committed to continue growing an electric vehicle charging network in rural areas around the state. This fast charger is one of the units that is helping expand that network and is part of a $1 million investment the co-ops are making in electric vehicle charging infrastructure across the state. Eight of North Carolina’s electric cooperatives also were recently awarded funding through the North Carolina Volkswagen Settlement to install additional charging stations along major highway corridors.

Growing the EV network helps with NC’s Electric Cooperatives’ goal of reducing carbon emissions by 50 percent from 2005 levels by 2030 and being at net zero carbon emissions by 2050. This is part of a new Brighter Future initiative recently launched by the 26 North Carolina electric cooperatives, including

SYEMC, that aims to preserve the reliability and affordability of electricity while also achieving important sustainability goals.

The new EV charger has seen heavy use since it was energized, especially on the weekends. EV users can search for chargers on their online maps when traveling and planning trips, and the ChargePoint fast charger in Dobson is now appearing on those mapping systems.

This will mean a boost to Surry County’s tourism and economy. EV drivers will be able to make stops in Surry County, and while their vehicle is charging up, they can visit Circle K as well as other nearby stores and restaurants.

Circle K in Dobson is the first one in North Carolina to host a DC fast charger, and among the first locations for Circle K in the United States. Circle K is already a global leader in EV charging with stations in Europe hosting EV capacity. In Norway alone, Circle K stations have more than 450 chargers.

“This is the first EV charger in the Coastal Carolina Business Unit,” said Jill Peterson, fuel director for Circle K. “In this market, we are evaluating what impact EV charging capacity may have on our local business and driving traffic to our site. Our expectation is that we will see lift over time as adoption rates increase, and we look forward to helping all our customers fill their needs, whether for fuel or electric charging.

“We are excited to partner with Surry-Yadkin Electric on this project, and we look forward to seeing how traffic at this location may improve with the new option to our EV customers,” Peterson said.

“This is something big to celebrate,” said Travis Bode, key accounts and energy services coordinator for SYEMC. “We’re not only honored for ourselves and for Circle K, but for Surry County. It’s nice to know that here in Dobson, Surry County, a tenth of a mile from I-77, is the first one in North Carolina.

“It’s a nice boost for area businesses and for the county,” he said.

The EV charger project was a year in the works. SYEMC reached out to Circle K after an assessment determined there was a need for a fast charger along the I-77 corridor.

“It’s nice to work in a county like Surry County, where it’s not just us, it’s everybody. You’ve got county leadership, you’ve got corporate leadership, all working together for one common goal that fits everybody else,” Bode said.

“Our goals at Surry-Yadkin are what are our member needs, and what are our community needs, and what can we do to get there,” he said.

Evan Fitzgerald, innovation and business development analyst with North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives, noted that NC cooperatives are leading the country in cooperatives owning and operating EV infrastructure throughout the state. By the middle of 2021, there will be about 20 fast chargers throughout the state operated by cooperatives, he said.

“It’s important to increase EV chargers throughout the state,” Fitzgerald said. He added the importance of filling in the gaps in areas where there may not be a lot of EV use yet, but there will be in the future and this will encourage EV adoption because there will be places to charge around the state.

He also pointed out the chargers’ importance to economic development as drivers will stop in communities along their travels.

Surry County Commissioner Larry Johnson, chairman of the board of commissioners, also talked about the importance of the EV chargers. He foresaw a time when one charger will not be enough, and more will need to be added.

“I think it is wonderful for folks to stop right here in Surry County and see this beautiful county and this beautiful country that we have right here. While they’re recharging their cars, they can go to the businesses nearby and recharge themselves with a cup of coffee or a pack of Nabs,” Johnson said.

Prior to the installation of the EV fast charger, SYEMC had four Level II chargers on its system – two at the Fairfield Inn in Elkin, one at the Hampton Inn off Zephyr Road in Dobson, and one at the SYEMC headquarters in Dobson.

An additional Level II charger will be installed this year at the visitors center parking lot at Hanging Rock State Park. This will be the second installed at a state park by an electric cooperative in North Carolina.

Lumsden taking part in town hall meeting

Northern Regional Hospital President and CEO Chris Lumsden will be a panelist on a virtual town hall meeting sponsored by the North Carolina Hospital Association set for Tuesday at 1 p.m.

The event is part of a series of virtual town halls to be held across the state, with Tuesday being the first. It includes leaders in the hospital field from the Piedmont region of North Carolina, which includes Mount Airy and Surry County.

“Through these and other activities, NCHA and our members will create conversations with North Carolinians to improve healthcare delivery and illustrate how healthcare providers are building the future of healthcare in our state,” the hospital association said in announcing the events.

The town halls are part of an initiative by the association to better connect hospitals, healthcare systems and the public, with the aim of improving healthcare in the state. More information is available at NCHealthcare.org, including how to register for Tuesdays virtual town hall.

Nester Hosiery of Mount Airy wins military contract

Mount Airy-based Nester Hosiery has won a contract from the Defense Logistics Agency for its Farm to Feet brand of socks.

The order for its Kodiak and Fayetteville styles is in support of the U.S. Army’s need for technically advanced socks for soldiers. Details of the order were not disclosed.

From sheep’s wool sheared in the Rocky Mountains to all processing done within 300 miles of Nester’s sustainability-focused knitting facility in Mount Airy, each pair of Farm to Feet socks is made using a 100% domestic supply chain.

“We design, develop and manufacture the very best socks using only U.S.-sourced materials,” Farm to Feet CEO Kelly Nester said. “Those who serve in the armed services require socks that support their mission without fail. As a result, service members are some of the most discerning critics as they require socks that can stand up to the rigors of deployment. Receiving this contract further solidifies our belief in our products.”

Named after the home of the Naval Special Warfare Cold Weather Detachment, Kodiak is a heavyweight sock knit with the traditional sock construction that produces heather textures with nylon plaiting and stretch yarns in the outer layers, and merino wool yarns on the inside. The nylon reinforcing yarns knit into the stretch shell increase durability, while the wool fibers that sit closer to the skin provide maximum comfort and insulation.

The Fayetteville is adapted from Farm to Feet’s hiking sock, the Damascus. Made with 19.5-micron merino wool on an advanced 200-needle knitting machine, the Fayetteville provides the comfort of a thicker sock in a lightweight package. It features micro-channel circumferential ventilation, targeted hexagonal reinforcement and an improved comfort compression for reduced fatigue and added comfort.

Founded in 1993 by Marty NesterKelly Nester’s uncle, Nester Hosiery employs more than 200. Nester manufactures socks for more than two dozen brands including Farm to Feet, which it launched in 2013.

County reaches record high grad rate

Officials with Surry County Schools are celebrating the system hitting an all-time-high graduation rate this year, while Mount Airy City Schools officials are likewise pleased graduation rates there have exceeded 90%.

“Surry County Schools hit another milestone with the highest graduation rate in (its) history at 93.8%,” said Dr. Tracey Lewis, director of communications/teacher recruitment and retention for the county schools. That mark is 0.8 percentage points above last year, when the county hit what had been its all-time high at 93.0%.

In Mount Airy, the graduation rate is 90.4%, a 1.8 percentage point improvement over the previous year’s 88.6%.

Statewide, the average four-year cohort graduation rate for the 2016-2019 classes was 87.6%. All local and state percentages are taken from figures reported by Public Schools of North Carolina.

“For several years the Surry County school system has made steady gains in the graduation rate,” Lewis said in a written statement announcing the county milestone.

“I am so proud and hope all of Surry County will join me in celebrating the hard work, effort and dedication of our students, educators and schools. As we continue to reach new heights in achievement, I hope it becomes a source of pride for our community,” said Dr. Travis Reeves, SCS superintendent.

“This is just another example of how the Surry County Schools system is collectively engaged and committed to equipping all of our students for success in college and careers.”

“We work on this every year and want to make sure all of our students graduate either in four or five years,” said Dr. Kim Morrison, Mount Airy superintendent.

“In our strategic plan we have as our vision for the district that every single child graduate. We also believe that they need as many credits as possible, not just the minimum the state requires. This allows them to be successful after graduation without inflating our graduation rate. We are proud of the fact that our graduation rate is above state average and climbing.”

In the county, all four of the schools were above the 90% mark. The graduation rates for the individual schools were:

 East Surry High School graduated greater than 95% of students;

 North Surry High School graduated 91.1% of students;

 Surry Central High School graduated 92.4% of students;

 Surry Early College High School graduated greater than 95% of students.

“Increasing graduation rates are one measure of how well our schools are serving students. While graduation rates are touted by high schools, we know this success begins in pre-K and kindergarten,” said Reeves.

“Reaching this important milestone is so important for the future of Surry County. High levels of student achievement and graduation rates attract business and industry, and a well-equipped workforce in our county fosters economic growth and development. I look forward to our working together throughout this school year to continue building on this outstanding foundation to ensure even more students are prepared for life after high school.”

Surrey Bancorp declares dividend

The Board of Directors of Surrey Bancorp (Pink Sheets: SRYB) last week declared a quarterly cash dividend of 10.5 cents per share on the company’s common stock. The cash dividend is payable on Oct. 9 to shareholders of record as of the close of business on Sept. 18.

Ted Ashby, president and CEO of Surrey Bancorp, stated the dividend was based on the company’s current operating results, its “strong financial condition and a commitment to delivering shareholder value.”

This will be the third consecutive quarter for the bank paying a 10.5-cent dividend. Prior to that, the bank had paid 10 cents for four consecutive quarters, along with a special cash dividend of 12 cents per share paid on Jan. 9.

Surrey Bancorp is the bank holding company for Surrey Bank & Trust and is located at 145 North Renfro Street, Mount Airy. The bank operates full-service branch offices at 145 North Renfro Street, 1280 West Pine Street and 2050 Rockford Street in Mount Airy. Full-service branch offices are also located at 653 South Key Street in Pilot Mountain, 393 CC Camp Road in Elkin and 1096 Main Street in North Wilkesboro, and 940 Woodland Drive in Stuart, Virginia.

Surrey Bank & Trust is engaged in the sale of insurance through its wholly owned subsidiary Surrey Investment Services, Inc. The insurance agency, dba SB&T Insurance, is located at 199 North Renfro Street in Mount Airy.

Surrey Bank & Trust can be found online at www.surreybank.com.

Renfro CEO: Pivot to PPE prevented furloughs, proved versatility

Renfro CEO: Pivot to PPE prevented furloughs, proved versatility

When the potential impact of Covid-19 on his company became evident this past spring, Renfro President and CEO Stan Jewell faced the prospect of furloughing employees and idling machinery in Alabama, Tennessee and in the Triad.

The world’s largest sock maker of some of the most recognizable brands, shuttering of retail stores and a sudden halt of consumer activity forced the Mount Airy-based company into making personal protection equipment as demand fell by 80% practically overnight. With plenty of fabric on hand, high-capacity machinery capacity and design expertise available, Renfro’s pivot to making its Nightingale brand face mask likely preserved hundreds of jobs and created opportunities for hundreds more to find temporary work.

The pivot to making face masks was among the subjects discussed during Triad Business Journal’s Manufacturing in the Covid-19 Age private roundtable, which in addition to Jewell included Egger Wood Products Director of Corporate Training Michael Holmes and LLFlex CEO Victor Dixon. Coverage of that roundtable will be featured in this week’s print edition and published online.

Designed in conjunction with Wake Forest Baptists Health, Renfro quickly retooled to make as many as 1 million Nightingale face masks per week. That turned out to be the easy part. The challenge was finding, on short notice, upwards of 550 temporary workers to assemble and package the masks in seven locations.

Workers furloughed by other companies weren’t interested, Jewell said, because they were earning more with enhanced unemployment than they would assembling face masks. So a new market was targeted — students who aren’t eligible for unemployment benefits. Renfro partnered with its placement agencies and others to approach local school systems and colleges to find labor.

“Our thought was there are a lot of people who are 16 to 20 years old who are not able to draw unemployment benefits, and maybe even a lot of them were getting ready to look for summertime work and internships,” Jewell said. “Those opportunities weren’t going to be readily available, so why don’t we try and capture some of these people that were soon to be in the market to earn some cash anyway.”

Not a profit center

The project went on from April through June before Renfro began scaling back mask production as it core business gradually returned in advance of back-to-school and holiday shopping seasons. Because the mask project kept all employees on the job and machinery running, the return to making socks was seamless.

Jewell said Renfro never intended to profit off the sudden need for PPE, but rather break even on the project. The pricing of the masks allowed the company to donate about 25% of its production in areas where resources didn’t meet need. The company also helped execute Winston-Salem’s “Mask the City,” initiative, for which it provided 390,000 units practically at cost.

The washable, reusable masks are sold online to individuals in two-packs for $15. A pack of 24 costs $180 and a case of 96 is priced at $648, a discount of 75 cents per mask.

The primary goal was to keep the lights on and the machines running. Although requiring considerable ingenuity and hundreds of employee hours, Jewell characterized the mask pivot as relatively easy.

“There was a pretty simple conversion to make the masks, but figuring out a design that does not require cut-and-sew was a challenge because there’s not a lot of cut-and-sew of any scale in this country anymore,” Jewell said. “We tried to figure out a design that did not require sewing.”

The solution was a design featuring a strap threaded through a channel at the top and bottom of the mask. To simplify assembly, Renfro enlisted the help of metal fabricator Tampco in Elkin to design and create a tool to help thread the straps quickly.

“They they made hundreds of these devices so that we could ramp up quickly,” Jewell said.

Lessons learned

Now that its core business has rebounded, Jewell said Renfro is leaving the mass production of masks for companies better equipped to produce mass quantities until the need subsides. Renfro hasn’t exited the PPE business completely, still producing some 100,000 units per month at one location with permanent staff only. With the intellectual property and experience in hand, Jewell said Renfro has the ability to ramp up mask production if necessary.

For now, its Nightingale production is targeting customization for institutional clients such as hospital systems and even colleges and universities. Among its customers are UNC-Chapel Hill, Wake Forest University and Davidson College.

An ancillary benefit from the face mask experience, Jewell said, was recognizing the company’s ability to react quickly to changing market demands.

“I think what we really learned is that we’re much more agile than we even thought, and we can be very innovative and very agile,” Jewell said. “Maybe we apply that to the sock market, but also how do we reconfigure our supply chain so that we can be much more responsive to changing needs in the marketplace? I think that’s probably more applicable and better long-erm learning to apply, rather than to chase a lot of big markets. How do we use those skill sets that we just figured out that we’re really good at and apply them in new ways?”

Wayne Farms helps area homebound students

Wayne Farms helps area homebound students

As the community of Dobson struggled with the impact of COVID-19 on local schools, a local Wayne Farms employee saw an opportunity to intervene with a $10,000-plus fundraising effort focused on remote learning and digital home education.

The fundraising effort began with Candace Murphy’s experiences in the community. Her duties as a nurse and occupational health specialist with the Wayne Farms Dobson facility put her on the front lines of the COVID pandemic, and that vantage gave her a unique perspective on the needs of local students. As social distancing policies were implemented and parent concerns grew, local officials tasked with making sure home-educated students received adequate instruction realized many families didn’t have access to the necessary technology.

That’s when Murphy and the Wayne Farms workforce stepped in.

“As the area’s largest employer and a long-time community partner, Wayne Farms has a history of supporting local causes and programs,” the company said in a recently statement. “So when Murphy approached Dobson Complex management with the idea of a fundraiser to provide computer technology to facilitate remote learning for Surry County students, the idea took wings and employees across the local complex were on board.

“Over the course of the next few days, Murphy’s contagious enthusiasm swept through the ranks. The result—$10,000 in cash and an entire pickup truck load of writing materials, earbuds and tech accessories that will be needed by Surry County students requiring virtual learning as COVID-19 continues to run its course.”

Murphy recently joined with Wayne Farms representatives and local officials to present the cash and equipment donations. “We’re so glad to be able to help our local schools—we live and work here too, so making sure our students are equipped and ready to learn is a priority for everyone,” Murphy said.

Surry Communications honored for pandemic work

Surry Communications honored for pandemic work

Surry Communications was recognized as part of North Carolina’s Rural Broadband Week, an honor put into place via a declaration from Gov. Roy Cooper in early August.

Broadband, the high-bandwidth transmission that enables access to high-speed internet, has been critical to North Carolinians during the COVID-19 pandemic. Everything from healthcare to remote learning has moved online in recent months to limit person-to-person interaction.

Cooper’s Aug. 8 proclamation stated that broadband allows its users more affordable and efficient access to education, healthcare, public safety, commerce and government. The proclamation also states that those without broadband face a digital divide that hinders them from accessing necessary resources.

The goal of Rural Broadband Week, held Aug. 17-21, is to highlight the accomplishments of the broadband providers across the state that work tirelessly to provide high-speed internet access to its members.

Surry Communications, one of seven broadband membership cooperatives in CarolinaLink, N.C.’s Broadband Cooperative Coalition, serves the communities of Elkin, Mount Airy, Pilot Mountain and Lexington.

In addition to Surry, the seven cooperative members include: ATMC (Atlantic Telephone Membership Cooperative), Randolph Communications, Riverstreet Networks, Skyline/Skybest, Star Communications and Yadtel Telecommunications.

These cooperatives provide advanced technology services to many of the state’s most rural areas. Coalition members serve more than 150,000 rural homes and businesses in this region and are committed to expanding rural broadband to unserved and underserved communities throughout the state.

“We are proud of our coalition members and their efforts to continue the expansion of broadband to rural North Carolinians,” commented Dwight Allen, executive vice president of CarolinaLink. “Access to high-speed internet is vital for education, healthcare and business and with fiber optic technology our cooperatives are paving the way for the future of rural North Carolina.”

Over the past year, CarolinaLink members received $35.3 million dollars in state and federal grant funds and will invest an additional $17.4 million in matching funds for rural broadband expansion projects.

Through grant funds provided by the NC GREAT Grant Program and the USDA’s ReConnect and Community Connect Programs, more than 15,000 North Carolina homes and businesses will soon have access to fiber optic high-speed internet. CarolinaLink members also self-fund more than $30 million in rural broadband projects annually.

CarolinaLink members serve residents and businesses in thirty counties throughout the state and employee more than 1,000 North Carolinians. In addition, five of the seven coalition members are Gig-Certified through the Rural Broadband Association. Four of the cooperatives are also nationally recognized as Smart Rural Community Providers, which highlight member projects that make rural communities vibrant places to live and do business through the implementation of innovative broadband-enabled solutions.

Four Triad community colleges receive apprenticeship grants from Duke Energy

Four Triad community colleges have earned a share of more than $900,000 in grants from Duke Energy  to support apprenticeship programs at eight schools across the state.

The grants fulfill the company’s 2017 commitment to fund $5 million in apprenticeship programs at North Carolina community colleges. Sharing $399,500 are:

  • Alamance Community College ($179,000);
  • Davidson County Community College ($125,000);
  • Forsyth Tech Community College ($50,000);
  • Surry Community College ($45,500).

The funds will help support their programs that partner the schools with businesses to develop the workforce of tomorrow.

“We are so grateful for Duke Energy’s support of our apprenticeship programs,” said Peter Hans, president of the N.C. Community College System. “Students in the programs receive hands-on learning while earning a paycheck and gaining specialized skills. Apprenticeships have increased rapidly at community colleges because employers recognize their value in building the workforce of the future.”

Since 2004, Duke Energy has provided $45 million in funding to North Carolina community colleges.

“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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