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By John Bailey Hickory Daily Record
NEWTON – It’s been a long journey, but Catawba Valley Community College finally held its ribbon cutting for the new home of its Furniture Academy on Thursday.
The program is going from 6,000 square feet at its old location in the East Camps of CVCC to 38,000 square feet at the facility on Locust Street in Newton (Old Hickory Tannery). The college closed on the facility in May.
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory also was on hand during the ribbon cutting.
He pointed to the Catawba Valley Furniture Academy as an example of how manufacturing is not a dead industry and congratulated CVCC and the county for making the investment.
There’s a need for 3,000 workers in the Catawba Valley furniture industry, according to a CVCC report.
According to furniture industry analyst Jerry Epperson, managing director of Mann, Armistead & Epperson, Ltd., the largest portion of upholstered furniture is still made in the United States. The mean annual wage in 2015 for an upholsterer according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics was $34,240. There are 35 students enrolled at CVCC with a waiting list to enroll.
The CVCC Academy focuses on seven specific skill sets: manual cutting, automated cutting, pattern making, sewing, spring-up, inside upholstery and outside upholstery.
Catawba Valley Community College President Garrett Hinshaw said the new facility was a good example of the vision he has for his school and all its partners.
“When you have the responsibility we have at Catawba Valley Community College to ensure our community stays vibrant and you develop a vision and then you see this vision come to reality and we’re actually able to take people through a program and put them directly to work, that’s what my career has been about,” Hinshaw said.
While CVCC was at the forefront of the program, it got a great deal of help from the founding companies: Century Furniture, Lee Industries, Lexington Home Brands, Sherrill Furniture and Vanguard Furniture, along with several other community organizations.
Bill McBrayer from Lexington Home Brands and a member of the State Board of Community Colleges added the County Commission, the CVCC Foundation and the City of Newton also played key roles in getting the new home for the academy.
“Instead of having a limited amount of students being able to come through and get educated and trained, we’re expanding that by twenty or more and maybe get a hundred people out here and get them trained,” McBrayer said.
Hinshaw added these kinds of partnerships are the only way community colleges can secure their futures.
“It’s when we develop such a high level of trust within our communities to where if there is a problem, people know where to turn. They can turn to their community college,” he said. “Even if the problem doesn’t reside with us, we’re partnered with so many agencies, with so many groups, we can take care of things.”
The program at CVCC also is drawing interest from other community colleges across the state and country, McBrayer said.
“I tell people it’s not rocket science. It’s just a matter of getting a community or businesses to sit at a table and say here’s what we need,” McBrayer said.
The new building was also a good deal financially with a total price tag of $875,000 dollars with the majority of that money coming from the Catawba County Commission. The building is 10 years old but to build something similar today would cost the college $5.5 million, CVCC Vice President of Finance Wes Bunch said after the purchase in June.
Lori Price is the director of the Catawba Valley Furniture Academy.


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