Editorial: Lenoir gains a showplace for region's hopes

Sep. 24, 2013 @ 02:44 PM

Easy prediction: The stretch of U.S. 321 in front of the former headquarters of Broyhill Furniture Industries is going to be a standard part of every tour of the Lenoir area by economic development officials hosting prospective businesses.

On the west side will be the Broyhill building, now being renovated for its new life as the headquarters of rapidly growing Exela Pharma Sciences, a pharmaceutical company. On the east side, farther off the road, will be what is now called the Expo building, which soon is going to be renovated – though that word may be inadequate to describe the facelift the outside of the building is going to get – to become the new headquarters of rapidly growing Greer Laboratories, also a pharmaceutical company.

When Exela bought the Broyhill building in April, we said that probably no single spot in all of Caldwell County better symbolized the region’s fortunes – its rise on the back of the furniture industry, its stumbles as that industry faltered, and now its search for a new direction.

Clearly, that remains true, but once these two renovations are complete, that spot of symbolism also will become a showplace.

Two companies facing each other across the highway does not make a mini-Research Triangle, but it’s true that like attracts like. Just as Google’s presence here, and Apple's down the road in Catawba County, opens the door to other technology companies being willing to take a look and consider the Lenoir area’s possibilities, having a nucleus of several hundred pharmaceutical and biomedical jobs – emphasized by such a prominent visual presence – can’t help but catch the eye of like-minded companies.

At least, that’s the hope. It’s what business recruiters say, not just here but everywhere. It’s why community colleges emphasize having programs that aim to become employment feeders for growing local industries, as Caldwell Community College & Technical Institute’s health sciences program aims.

That said, it has to be acknowledged that these companies are just a couple of tiles in the mosaic that local officials hope the county’s economy will become. Their presence and growth are good news for the long-term and those residents who still are in school, but thousands of local residents who remain unemployed or underemployed still wait. The uncertainty surrounding Furniture Brands’ bankruptcy hangs like a foul fog.

Like so much of North Carolina, Caldwell County is hungry for more good news, in larger portions. But like so many North Carolinians, we’ll have to settle for what news is there, and use it to nurture our hopes.