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By John Baily Hickory Daily Record

NEWTON – Students at the Catawba Valley Community College furniture academy have a leg up on others looking for work in the industry.

They can put on their resume some practical, real-world experience after being part of a project to build more than 50 loveseats for the North Carolina capital building in Raleigh this year.

Members of the North Carolina General Assembly made their support clear for this kind of manufacturing education this week when Speaker of the House Tim Moore along with state Representatives for Catawba County Jay Adams and Mitchell Setzer visited the Catawba Valley Furniture Academy (CVFA) to thank the students and their instructors.

They replaced furniture that’s been in the building since 1963. The order from the furniture academy was for 55 loveseats at $250 each.

“It’s good to see examples where government gets it right,” Moore said. “This partnership with the community college and with the industries who support it is something we ought to see more of, and what it’s doing is giving the folks here jobs.”

Moore said he appreciated the way the opportunities created by the academy is improving the lives of people and helping the economy grow overall. He also thanked Representatives Adams and Setzer for their support of the program in the general assembly.

“When we go through the budget process they make sure to fight for the funds to fund this project,” Moore said.

Looking ahead

Adams worked in furniture manufacturing in the 1970s and ‘80s.

“I wonder to myself if we’d had a facility like this where innovation can blossom, where techniques can be developed, what the industry would be like today if we had this forty years ago,” Adams said.

“When this was being discussed, I thought it was a great idea and to see it come to fruition like this is just really terrific. This is the beginning for a lot of people, and it’s not a shot in the dark. They will have jobs when they finish here.”

The Catawba Valley Furniture Academy (CVFA) is an industry-driven training program designed by local furniture manufacturers to prepare students for skilled positions that are in high demand by one of the region's largest employers, according to

It has a one hundred percent job placement rate for the students who finish the program, Lori Price, CVCC director of furniture workforce development said.

The CVCC academy first opened in 2014 on the main campus in Hickory and then in Alexander Co. in 2016. The founding partners included: Century Furniture, Lee Industries, Lexington Home Brands, Sherrill Furniture and Vanguard Furniture. Other partners in the CVFA project included: Bassett, Valdese Weavers, Snyder, Leggett/Platt, Preferred and CR Laine.

The furniture academy offers classes in various areas of the industry including: pattern making, manual cutting, automated cutting, sewing, inside upholstery and outside upholstery. Currently, there are 50 students enrolled in the program with no shortage of further interest from future students.

“Our students are very prepared to move on and when we have students come back to visit us, there’s excitement in their voice because when they go into a new job they already have experience and they're able to start at a different, higher level,” Cindy Fulbright, CVFA project manager said.

Jean Grindstaff is one of the students who helped build the loveseats for the General Assembly. She and her instructor Kim Privette, who is also a Lexington employee, were thankful for the visit from the members of the state legislature. They work on the next-generation automated cutting system, the GERBERcutter Z1.

Privette has been in the business for more than 20 years and sees it steadily coming back.

“I’m excited because I’m seeing a newer generation excited about coming out and working in furniture,” she said. “It went downhill for awhile but now that it’s coming back up, it’s good to see people so interested, and when they see these machines they get even more excited.”

Making connections

The idea to use the furniture academy to build replacements for the capital building started with conversation between Adams and Bill McBrayer with Lexington Home Brands and a member of the state board of community colleges.

A larger celebration will be held later this summer at the capital to recognize the work of the furniture academy, but since many of the students and the other ten partners in the project wouldn’t be able to make the trip, McBrayer suggested a visit to the academy.

Catawba County Schools board member Tommy Luckadoo said he’s been encouraged seeing the current focus on vocational and trade education.

“In many ways this seamlessly fits into what the K-12 schools systems are doing in Catawba County, but it also gives a lot of folks who are looking to change careers a chance to come back and get a guaranteed job after this program,” Luckadoo said.

Catawba Valley Community College President Garrett Hinshaw said CVFA is a business driven next step in manufacturing education.

“When our elected officials begin to see how the community college system in North Carolina can work with its local business partners to solve problems it brings a lot of credibility to what we do,” Hinshaw said. “That helps us when they’re back in Raleigh making decisions about funding.

“It’s a very important evening for us and we’re pleased to have Speaker Moore and of course our local representatives Setzer and Adams who helped secure this visit.”

Setzer said it was good to have this kind of mechanism to train the next generation of furniture manufacturing employees in Catawba County.

“It’s a valid skill that will provide for families in the county and in the area,” Setzer said.

For more information about the CVCC Catawba Valley Furniture Academy, visit or call 828-327-7000, ext. 4294.


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