Statewide: Western region, March 2015
Construction-equipment maker Caterpillar is shuttering its Franklin plant by early 2016, laying off 150 workers as it consolidates operations closer to its Peoria, Ill., headquarters. It’s a big blow for mountainous Macon County, which counted a workforce of about 15,000 in late 2014. The company has been in Franklin since 1993 and at its current site since 1995, Macon County Economic Development Director Tommy Jenkins says. The plant makes seals for heavy equipment. “The No. 1 reason they relocated in the early 1990s was they were having union issues up north,” he says. “They saw that we had a small workforce, but a good and dedicated workforce.” Franklin is the seat of Macon County, an area of about 34,000 people that is reliant on tourism. About half of Macon’s land is part of the Nantahala National Forest. The county’s largest private employer is Drake Enterprises, a tax-software business that employs about 600. Cultivating small businesses is a growth strategy just as important as recruitment, Jenkins says. “We’ve always known, like in any rural area, manufacturing can be a risky proposition, especially when you’re not near the [Interstate] 85 corridor. We’ve tried to diversify our economic-development efforts.” Caterpillar will vacate a 105,000-square-foot space in Macon County Industrial Park near a 62,000-square-foot plant that used to be home to ball-bearing manufacturer SKF before it consolidated operations in Salina, Kan. The N.C. Department of Commerce in November designated Macon as a Tier 1 county, the lowest of the state’s three levels of economic prowess, making it eligible for more economic incentives in 2015. While Macon County’s unemployment rate was a relatively low 5.6% in December, almost one in five citizens live in households with income below the federal poverty line. Combined with its population of fewer than 35,000 people, the county was automatically eligible for the lowest tier designation.
ASHEVILLE — Asheville Savings Bank CEO Suzanne DeFerie was named a director of Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta, beginning Jan. 1. DeFerie has led the Asheville-based bank since 2008 and was its chief financial officer for 16 years. Asheville Savings Bank operates 13 branches in western North Carolina. FHLBank Atlanta is one of 12 federally sponsored banks that provide low-cost funding to financial institutions for mortgages and other banking services.
CANDLER — Plum Print raised $1 million in venture-capital funding led by Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Brooklyn Bridge Ventures. Founded in 2012, the company based here converts children’s artwork into coffee-table books. Asheville Angels, a group of investors formed in 2014, contributed $100,000 — its first investment.
CULLOWHEE — Western Carolina University will begin in May constructing a 120,000-square-foot building that will include dining, retail and residential units for about 380 students. The building replaces one built in the 1940s that was damaged by a fire in November 2013. Construction is expected to cost up to $25 million and be completed by August 2016. The university estimated it would have cost more than $1.5 million to restore the burned building.
FONTANA DAM — Knoxville, Tenn.-based Anchor South signed an agreement to manage Fontana Village Resort, Graham County’s fourth-largest employer. The 400- acre Fontana Village was established in 1942 to house workers building the 480-foot-high Fontana Dam and was later converted to a resort that includes cabins, a lodge