Furniture company to open plant in Winston-Salem creating 200 jobs

The Weeks Plant, off West Hanes Mill Road and which once housed knitting operations for the Hanes Knitting Co., offers 850,000 square feet of space. (David Rolfe/Journal)

The Weeks Plant, off West Hanes Mill Road and which once housed knitting operations for the Hanes Knitting Co., offers 850,000 square feet of space. (David Rolfe/Journal)

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — United Furniture Industries confirmed Wednesday it will open a furniture production and distribution center in the historic Weeks textile plant in Winston-Salem, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.

The Okolona, Miss., company pledges to create at least 200 full-time jobs and spend at least $5.2 million on capital investments over three years on the 850,000-square-foot plant off 401 W. Hanes Mill Road.

United already has shifted distribution operations and 47 employees from Union Cross Business Park to the site.

United specializes in making promotional upholstery and vinyl furniture in the $299 to $699 range. It also makes product in Lexington, Archdale and Glenola. It has a combined 940 employees in North Carolina.

The company said the expansion is necessary to handle increasing demand for its products.

Robert Cottam, a consultant for United Furniture Industries, said the investment could reach up to $11 million depending on how much of the plant the company decides to utilize. Larry George, United’s president, has made Cottam the public-relations face for the company.

“The consumer demographics are in our favor,” Cottam said.

“More consumers, especially young adults, want instant gratification in a purchase, and we can have a sofa in their home in three to eight days. They also want furniture that they consider as transitional for their lifestyles.”

Cottam said United’s goal is to have three production lines operating by the end of the year, requiring a workforce of up to 125.

“That would represent a good start for us in Winston-Salem,” he said.

Gov. Pat McCrory said in a statement the expansion not only signifies another example of a reviving furniture industry in the state, but also a commitment to revitalize another historic textile plant. McCrory is a proponent of a new tax-credit program for investing in closed production plants.

“This is a significant expansion by United Furniture Industries and adds to the large workforce the company already has in North Carolina,” McCrory said.

United is leasing the property from Mooresville entrepreneur Michael Bay with the potential for buying it at a later date. Bay paid $3.2 million to buy the plant from Hanesbrands Inc. in March 2013. He backed out of plans in November for opening a furniture showroom there.

When Hanes Hosiery Mills Co. opened the Weeks plant in 1960, it was the largest manufacturing plant in North Carolina. Hanes Hosiery spent about $30 million on the plant, which would be about $245 million in today’s dollars, according to calculations from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

United Furniture is eligible for up to $300,000 in local performance-based incentives and a matching amount from the state’s One North Carolina Fund.

Winston-Salem’s incentive package of up to $150,000 requires United to keep the expanded operations in the city for at least 10 years. The incentives are subject to clawback requirements if the company fails to meet job creation and capital investment goals.

Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines said the city took into consideration the average wage that United wants to pay. “Lower incentives because of wage rates,” he said.

N.C. Commerce Department officials said the annual payroll for the new jobs will be $5.68 million.

Cottam said the average wage for production workers could be higher than the average annual salary of $28,420 plus benefits, or $13.66 an hour, which United pledged in its incentive request.
“They could make $15 to $18 an hour depending on their efficiency and work ethics,” Cottam said. He said most production workers will be given a daily work load.

Cottam acknowledges United will face challenges in attracting and hiring qualified production employees given that other Triad manufacturers, both traditional and advanced, are dealing with similar obstacles.

The company has hired Debbie’s Staffing to handle much of the applicant screening process that will lead to a temporary-to-permanent training and hiring. Debbie’s will handle the screening at three offices. Contact information is (336) 776-1717 or go to http://www.debbiesstaffing.com.

“Employees will work a 12-week provisional period before becoming full-time employees to show they can handle the demands of the production jobs,” Cottam said.

“Our resources at this time don’t extend far into Forsyth, and Debbie’s has better resources and they can make things happen quickly and efficiently in vetting potential employees for our needs.”

“We are working with a large group of public partners to develop a regional work force development program to better prepare individuals for manufacturing jobs,” Cottam said. “Such a program is critical to the success of United and all manufacturing firms in North Carolina.”

The plant represents the first major inner-Triad economic-development recruitment scenario in several years. Joines supported the United projects while being focused on “following our economic guidelines so as to not get into a bidding war.”

“Our strong workforce and business-friendly climate helped create the ideal location for them, and we are excited to see them expanding here,” said Rep. Debra Conrad, R-Forsyth.

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