Thursday brought both good and bad news for Lincoln County’s economy, with one local company announcing plans to create 26 new jobs and another reportedly halting operations and laying off 50 workers.
According to multiple reports from area news media, Lincolnton Furniture Company abruptly closed its doors and sent employees home for good on Thursday, though details, including the permanence of the apparent closure, remained unclear.
Meanwhile, an announcement came from the office of Gov. Bev Perdue that Tenowo Inc., formerly known as HOF Textiles, will be expanding its operations in Lincolnton, bringing 26 new jobs and a planned investment of $7.2 million over the next three years.
In exchange, the company, a manufacturer specializing in functional and decorative nonwovens for automotive, industrial and apparel applications, will receive a $50,000 grant from the One North Carolina Fund.
Tenowo was founded in 1992 in Lincolnton as HOF Textiles and is a wholly owned subsidiary of a Germany-based company. Using advanced proprietary manufacturing technologies, Tenowo is a leading supplier to global producers of high-quality automotive components and apparel products. As a part of the expansion, the company will add fiber-supply and power-coating lines to meet increased demand.
The plant currently employs 67 people.
Salaries for the new positions will vary by job function, but the average annual wage for the new jobs will be $32,538, plus benefits. This is slightly above the Lincoln County average salary of $31,252.
“Tenowo is excited and eager to move forward with expansion plans for our Lincoln County facility,” said Lothar Hackler, president of the company. “The expansion will allow Tenowo to double the capacity for high engineered nonwoven products for the North American automotive industry.”
“The support from Lincoln County and the state of North Carolina were critical to the company’s final decision to expand the Lincolnton plant,” he added. “This has been a very successful location for our company, and we look forward to an even brighter future for our employees and our company.”
The One North Carolina Fund provides financial assistance, through local governments, to attract business projects that will stimulate economic activity and create new jobs in the state. Companies receive no money up front and must meet job creation and investment performance standards to qualify for grant funds. These grants also require and are contingent upon local matches.
The Lincoln Economic Development Association was also involved in the project.
“This is an excellent expansion for Lincoln County,” said N.C. Rep. Jason Saine, R-Lincoln. “North Carolina is a leader in nonwoven textiles, and this project further strengthens our reputation.”
News of the apparent closure of Lincolnton Furniture first appeared late Thursday in a WBTV broadcast, citing an announcement from owner Bruce Cochrane that the company would be laying off 50 employees immediately.
According to the TV station’s website, Cochrane said he would wait until he had spoken with employees to issue a public explanation for the sudden change in fortunes of the company he’d started a little more than a year ago to much public acclaim, including an appearance at the president’s State of the Union Address in 2012.
The Times-News was unable to reach Cochrane to confirm this report, a difficulty also cited by other area media, but reports did indicate other officials with the company had corroborated the basic story – Lincolnton Furniture was closing down, at least for now.
It remained unclear late Thursday whether this represented a permanent shutdown in the business or a temporary halt to production.
The Charlotte Observer quoted company financial officer Ben Causey saying the situation was still under evaluation, but the shutdown was prompted by the failure of anticipated furniture orders to materialize.
Cochrane’s venture involved reopening a plant his family had owned for many years before selling it about a decade ago. The old “Cochrane Furniture” eventually closed, facing the same pressure from overseas manufacturers that has plagued the once-thriving furniture industry throughout western North Carolina in recent years.
The launch of Lincolnton Furniture under Cochrane had been heralded as a new hope for American industry, praised by state and federal politicians alike.
Times-News Managing Editor Frank Taylor also contributed to this report.