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Furniture maker will create 200 jobs in NC with new plant and ties to Crate and Barrel

Design Foundry, a furniture-maker, plans to open a manufacturing facility in Catawba County, creating 202 jobs and investing more than $3.1 million in the Hickory project, Governor Roy Cooper said Tuesday.
Design Foundry, a furniture-maker, plans to open a manufacturing facility in Catawba County, creating 202 jobs and investing more than $3.1 million in the Hickory project, Governor Roy Cooper said Tuesday. The (Raleigh) News & Observer file photo

A furniture-maker plans to open a manufacturing facility in Catawba County, creating 202 jobs over five years, Gov. Roy Cooper said Tuesday.

The company, Design Foundry, is expected to invest more than $3.1 million in the Hickory project, according to a press release from Cooper’s office. In exchange, the state has awarded the firm a grant worth up to $1.5 million, the release said.

Design Foundry was formed last year near Lake Hickory in the northern part of the city, online filings with the North Carolina secretary of state’s office indicate. Hickory is about an hour north of Charlotte.

Salaries for the jobs will vary by position and experience but pay $57,995 on average, the release said, noting that that’s higher than Catawba County’s average salary of $41,531.

Over the course of the grant’s 12-year term, the project is estimated to grow North Carolina’s economy by $320 million, the release said.

The company plans to manufacture upholstered furniture in partnership with a major furniture and home goods retailer, Tuesday’s release said.

The retailer’s name was not mentioned in the release, and the company could not be reached for comment. But Catawba County Manager Mick Berry said the firm will partner with Crate and Barrel, an Illinois-based retailer that sells furniture and home accessories.

The plant is coming to a region that has been battered for years by the decline of its textile industry, though Berry said the furniture industry remains a “key component” of the county’s economy.

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Design Foundry will hire craftspeople, in addition to workers with education or experience in STEM, or science, technology, engineering and math, the release said. Plans are to use advanced equipment and practices in the manufacturing process, the release said.

Design Foundry CEO Eric Fulcher is a furniture industry veteran.

He is founder of Sutter Street Manufacturing, an upholstered furniture-making subsidiary of San Francisco-based retailer Williams-Sonoma.

Sutter Street, which also has operations in Catawba County, was established in 2007. It supplies furniture for Williams-Sonoma brands such as Pottery Barn and Williams-Sonoma Home.

In a statement, Fulcher said investments in STEM programs in Catawba County played a role in the decision to pick Hickory.

“The community has a strong tradition of being makers of great things, with furniture being an important part of that history,” he said. “We believe Catawba County can be at the forefront of combining innovative technology with the artisan craft.

Scott Millar, president of the Catawba County Economic Development Corporation, said that the high-end furniture manufacturing industry is probably still the largest employer in the county. The industry has made strides recovering since the Great Recession about a decade ago, he said.

But the area has lost thousands of jobs since employment peaks around the 1960s through the 1980s, Millar said. A lot of that work shifted to overseas plants.

The Design Foundry announcement probably isn’t the start of a major trend of more furniture jobs coming to the county, he said. But he noted the diversification of the county’s economy, pointing to jobs in auto parts manufacturing and telecommunications and at the data center for tech giant Apple.

“We’re trying to grow the employment pool in the county, Millar said. “Certainly if we can cause people to move here as a result of these opportunities, then the entire Charlotte region benefits.”

Zachery Eanes of The News & Observer contributed.

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