Caldwell's economic successes of 2013 celebrated

Feb. 26, 2014 @ 07:52 AM

Since Exela Pharma Sciences came to Lenoir in 2008, many people have had the same question for the company’s president and CEO.

“A lot of people ask me, ‘Why Lenoir?’” Phanesh Koneru said Tuesday while accepting the Industry of the Year award for Exela at the annual Caldwell Economic Development Celebration at the J.E. Broyhill Civic Center. “Probably by God’s grace, maybe, and maybe part coincidence.”

But he said the local community and business leaders have been good to Exela, a rapidly growing pharmaceutical maker that last year bought the former headquarters of Broyhill Furniture Industries to accommodate an expected doubling of its work force over the next three years.

“Ever since we came to Caldwell County in 2008, we have received nothing but excellent cooperation and help when we needed it,” he said. “Without all this, we would not be here and growing the way we are.”

The Caldwell County Economic Development Commission presented the Herman Anderson Award to Allen Stewart, a retired architect whom the EDC described as “a man of civic enterprise” whose far-reaching work in the community “exemplifies the qualities” of the award’s honorees. Stewart has been a Cajah’s Mountain town councilman for 11 years, a member of the EDC board for 13 years, is active in numerous roles throughout the county and has often donated his architectural expertise to community groups.

Also during Tuesday’s event, John Lassiter, chairman of the N.C. Economic Development Board, presented an update on the state’s efforts to revamp its approach to job growth and business development.

Part of the new approach is being more selective and thoughtful about what industries the state makes an effort to recruit, he said.

“North Carolina got in a habit of chasing every pretty girl,” Lassiter said.

Efforts now focus not only on industries with good wages but those that pair well with existing industrial sectors in the state. For instance, North Carolina has been a leader in plastics manufacturing but lags in chemicals. “They use the same kind of people,” he said.

Similarly, the state is strong is biomedical fields, but there are not many companies here making related medical devices.

One early focus of efforts during Gov. Pat McCrory’s first year in office has been a new approach to North Carolina’s “brand,” a term for what people or, in this case, business leaders think of when they think of the state. A new branding campaign will be rolled out in June during the U.S. Open at Pinehurst, Lassiter said.