Former Broyhill headquarters being sold

Apr. 10, 2013 @ 09:53 AM

A growing pharmaceutical company in Lenoir is working to close a deal this month to buy what once was the corporate headquarters of the county’s most prominent employer, Broyhill Furniture, the latest symbol of a shift in the local job market.

Exela Pharma Sciences has an “immediate need” for extra warehouse and laboratory space and for offices for its executives and administrators, Phanesh Koneru, the president and CEO of Exela, said in an email.

“This is the right place for us,” he said. The company researches and manufactures a range of pharmaceuticals, including injectable drugs.

The company is expected to sink about $8 million into renovating the building, currently owned by St. Louis, Mo.-based Furniture Brands International, which has owned it since emerging as the parent company of Broyhill Furniture more than 30 years ago. The property has been vacant nearly three years and is managed by commercial real estate brokerage Cassidy Turley.

The purchase plans were made public Tuesday at a meeting of the Caldwell County Economic Development Commission. The sale price was not announced, but Cassidy Turley has had the building listed for $3 million.

Officials at Exela, which is now on William White Place in Lenoir, initially dismissed the idea of acquiring extra space. But the EDC courted the company over the past year, including offering tours of the building, after learning Exela planned to expand its manufacturing and research. Exela pledged to create dozens of jobs at an average salary of $47,000 in the next three years in order to get a nearly $190,000 state grant in January. Jobs will range from chemists and other researchers to administrative and manufacturing roles.

The deal is the latest step in what Deborah Murray, executive director of the EDC, and others call a “transition into the new economy” after the collapse of the furniture industry.

But Tuesday’s announcement came as a surprise to Steve Stone, superintendent of the Caldwell County Schools, which was poised to try to buy the building to use as a middle school. The school district, he said, was planning to seek approval from the county commissioners.

Nonetheless, Dr. Stone acknowledged the “first priority” of the EDC is to broaden the job market in the county. He said school officials will consider plans to build a new middle school near Hibriten High School in Lenoir.

“We really do want the industry to have that building and bring jobs here,” he said, adding the shifting trends in the county’s job market likely will lead local colleges and academies to tailor their curriculum to engineering and other science disciplines.

The name of the building, seen by many as a remnant of what was perhaps the most widely known company – and family – in a county whose roads and landmarks now bear its name, will likely change after the contract is finalized, Koneru said.

But “we want to do it the right way,” he cautioned, adding his company would “take some time” to design an “appealing” logo. “We understand the importance of the building.”

The three-story building that emerged along U.S. 321 in the mid 1960s, after Paul Broyhill sought to build a new headquarters for a company his father, J.E. Broyhill, founded in blacksmith shop in Lenoir in the early 1900s, symbolized the rise of the company and the Broyhill family to prominence.

By the 1990s, Broyhill Furniture had some 7,500 employees, more than 4,500 of whom lived in Caldwell County, said Brent Kincaid, who worked at the company for more than 40 years, the last six as CEO before retiring in the late 1990s.

That was when furniture production prospered in the county, around which Kincaid and other workers drove corporate cars whose sides were emblazoned with the slogan, “Every thirty seconds, someone bought a piece of Broyhill furniture in America.”

He said the change of ownership of the building, whose “dancing fountains” and long hill perfect for snow sledding were a fixture for many longtime residents, has caused mixed emotions.

“It breaks my heart to know that the furniture industry has really changed in North Carolina,” he said. But “it’s good to know that the building is going to be used and that a great name is going to replace the marquee.”