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High-tech auto glass factory a sign of hope in Elkin

Gov. Pat McCrory talks at the grand opening celebration of the PGW glass plant Friday, May 9, 2014 in Elkin. (Walt Unks/Journal)

Gov. Pat McCrory talks at the grand opening celebration of the PGW glass plant Friday, May 9, 2014 in Elkin. (Walt Unks/Journal)

ELKIN, N.C. – Folks in Elkin and state leaders alike called a high-tech auto glass manufacturing plant a sign of hope for a part of the state that’s been battered hard in recent years.

Gov. Pat McCrory and other officials cut the ribbon at the Pittsburgh Glass Works plant on Friday, and said they look forward to the time when the plant increases production, maybe even doubles the size of its Surry County operation.

The company makes side and rear window auto glass for Honda, Toyota and Ford, and sometime next year will start making windshield glass.

“The Carolina comeback continues,” McCrory said, touting the plant’s opening last fall as something of consequence beyond the community of Elkin. “We have got to continue to be a state that makes things, that builds things, that produces things and that grows things. That’s what made North Carolina great. That is what made our country great. We can never give up on manufacturing.”

The company, which also goes by the name PGW, has 133 employees it its Elkin plant. Employees get training at Surry Community College and operate robotic equipment that carries out many of the tasks. Hiring should increase to a total of 260 or so when the plant adds the windshield-manufacturing line and gets up to full production, officials said.

While state and local officials praised the company for bringing in skilled jobs, the company praised state and local leaders for their help.

Jim Wiggins, the chief executive of PGW, said that his company saw the need in 2010 to find a site in the Southeast that was close to where more auto manufacturing customers of its glass products were putting in factories.

Out of 34 sites in four states, Wiggins said, the Elkin site rose to the top of the list.

PGW occupies a former candle-distribution warehouse that it remodeled into a high-tech factory with robots carrying out precision operations. Now occupying part of a 400,000 square-foot building, the company has enough space on its site to double the size of its operation.

Elkin Mayor Lestine Hutchens said that PGW brought more than jobs to a town that struggled with the loss of textile and furniture jobs.

“It has done a lot for community spirit because anything you see with the car-manufacturing business is a boost,” Hutchens said. “Elkins has had people that drove to Winston-Salem and Charlotte to work. We are glad to have something to keep people at home. When you see the robots move the glass around it is really fascinating.”

Company officials said entry-level workers start at around $12 an hour and can work their way up to $15 or $16 per hour with more experience. Other more skilled workers make up to about $20 an hour, company officials said.

McCrory said that after Friday’s plant opening he will never look at an auto glass window the same:

“When I look at a Honda Pilot I’m going to say, ‘That’s made right here, on Hondas throughout the world.’ ” McCrory said.

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