Manufacturing is a Mainstay
Companies Keep Jobs Local and Thrive
Western North Carolina certainly has its reputation for breathtaking views and charming character. However, its roots run much deeper than the great outdoors. Nothing compares to the impressive lineup of manufacturers dotting the region. These companies are creating a variety of products and services right here in Burke County.
“Each of these companies has shown the willingness and ability to adapt to remain strong and relevant in today’s very competitive, worldwide economy,” says Alan Wood, president and CEO of Burke Development, Inc. “While they are in different markets, there are commonalities that they share.”
Because of this ability to change with the times, these companies have solidified Burke County’s economy for years to come.
“Their commitment to manufacturing in the U.S. and Burke County is proof that it can be done,” Wood says. “Manufacturing will continue to have a valued place in our economy.”
For example, from what started as a hosiery mill in the 1970s, L&R Knitting has blossomed into a thriving manufacturer in Hildebran. Now under the name Sunnyside Textiles, new owners Randy Wakerlin and Lisa Flood are continuing to produce high-quality, American-made goods.
“All the L&R Knitting employees were retained, some of which have been working here for decades,” Wakerlin says. “[The company has] since added six employees and plans to add another building to the growing facility.”
Thriving off the mantra that, “Life’s too short for matched socks,” Sunnyside Textiles specializes in its popular and comfy line of Solmate Socks, which was founded by Marianne Wakerlin, Randy’s mother.
“She knew there was a market for beautifully crafted, mismatched socks made right here in America,” says Randy Wakerlin. “The company is named after Marianne’s mom, Sunny, who taught her how to knit when she was only 9 years old.”
Ever since then, Marianne Wakerlin has been referred to as the “Socklady,” sharing her dreams of color, design and fun with the community.
While the company is known for socks, Solmate also designs hats, scarves and mittens. In addition, products are made from recycled cotton yarn so not only will customers be supporting the local company, they will be bettering the environment, too.
Another stalwart in Burke County is Leviton. Founded in 1906 by Isidor Leviton, this business began in New York City as a company that manufactured mantle tips used for gas lighting. With the invention of Thomas Edison’s light bulb, Leviton shifted to manufacturing pull-chain lamp holders. This popular concept was well adopted by society over the next decade as the Leviton business-idea boomed.
As the years progressed, the Leviton name and status gained appreciation for its energy-efficient products focused on improving electrical safety and adding convenience for future generations. Electrical wiring, lighting energy management, security and automation are only a few of the products offered to meet the needs of commercial, residential and industrial sites.
Because of that, the majority of homes in North America use Leviton products and the company is the first choice for electrical contractors. Moreover, the company holds more than 600 patents and its products are available in more than 80 countries.
A $7.3 million expansion of the Leviton manufacturing plant in Morganton has introduced 152 new jobs for area workers.
Switching gears from electrical wiring to automobiles, the worldwide leader Continental has created numerous employment opportunities for locals. While the business is headquartered in Frankfurt, Germany, and employs about 178,000 across 49 countries, its two plants in Burke County are part of the corporation’s Vehicle Dynamics Business Unit.
At its Morganton Site 1 location, Continental makes Electronic Stability Control Systems that help improve driver safety. At the Morganton Site 2, workers manufacture Electronic Suspension Systems to provide comfortable rides for automobile passengers.
Of the 600 locally based employees, Continental works hard to deliver the best, most reliable products
to clients like Honda, Chrysler, Ford, Toyota and others.
Since opening in Valdese in 1994, Kellex
American Seating has evolved as one of America’s
premier manufacturers and suppliers of commercial upholstered furniture.
In 2008, at the peak of the Great Recession, Kellex opened its Burke County factory. Over the following four years, the site swelled to 150 employees who have made more than 250,000 pieces of beautiful furnishings.
Kellex has a reputation for its generosity, as well as its quality. After donating several hundred sofas and chairs to help renovate the Florida-based Give Kids the World camp for children with life-threatening illnesses, Kellex was profiled on the hit TV show, Extreme Makeover. The company also partnered with Susan G. Komen to support breast cancer awareness. Kellex crafted 25 pieces of pink-hued furniture that were later auctioned off to raise funds for the cause.
Packaging Corporation of America (PCA) is the third largest manufacturer of corrugated packaging in North America. PCA began operation in its Morganton plant back in 1959 when most of its clients were textile and furniture manufacturers, as well as dye houses.
However, once the need for these items for those industries started to decline, PCA reinvented its brand. Now, the company services a wider array of fields, from plastics to food and more. Some of PCA’s biggest customers are Ikea, Green Mountain Coffee and General Electric. The diversity of these companies and their impressive commodities prove that manufacturing is thriving in Burke County.
Invigorating Innovators – Small Business is an Economic Driver
When thinking of major economic boosters, large companies with national and international clout often come to mind. However, while some of those certainly are an important part of Burke County’s vitality, small businesses are making their mark on the community, too.
“Like manufacturing, health care, education, tourism and state government, small business is an important sector of the county’s economy,” says Jerry Davis, president and CEO of the Burke County Chamber of Commerce.
From wineries and craft breweries to local restaurants serving homegrown produce, retailers and art galleries, Burke County’s small businesses are diverse and continue to thrive.
“The foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains have historically been a cradle of creativity,” says Davis. “One thing that makes our small business sector special is how companies—wineries and vineyards for example—support each other, even though technically they are competitors. They work hard to make the local winemaking industry itself successful, knowing that it will accrue to every vintner’s success in the long run. That’s a refreshing attitude.”
In order to have continued success, entrepreneurs and family owned companies rely on a solid support system, and Burke County supplies it all.
“For the entrepreneur considering Burke County as a place to start a business, there’s plenty of help to be found,” says Davis. “The opportunities for an entrepreneur here are virtually unlimited.”
Anyone looking to get started or who needs assistance can delve into the resources available to them. Places such as the Burke County Small Business Center, Manufacturing Solutions Center, Small Business and Technology Development Center, Burke County Chamber of Commerce, Small Business Administration, downtown merchant associations, and various local loan programs can offer everything from financial counseling to help with business plans, marketing and more.
The Chamber also works diligently to connect innovative individuals with anything they might need from classes and seminars to online training.
Because of all of these efforts to create a pro-business atmosphere, AdvantageWest—the regional economic development group for western North Carolina—has named Burke County as a Certified Entrepreneurial Community.
With all these resources, it’s clear that Burke’s small businesses will continue to grow to create a more vibrant community and economy.