A view of Robbinsville, the home of Stanley Furniture, Graham County's largest employer, last April. Gwen Albers/Carolina Public Press

Company says it plans $10.1M investment

ROBBINSVILLE — A Charlotte wood products company has brought hope to Robbinsville.

Seven months after Stanley Furniture announced it was closing and eliminating 400 jobs, Oak Valley Hardwoods has purchased the shuttered the Graham County plant. Oak Valley is expected to create up to 114 jobs.

“Things are looking up,” said Roma Collins, co-owner of Collins Auto Sales in Robbinsville for nearly 30 years. “We’re in a very rural area. Unless you work construction or fast food, (Stanley Furniture) was the only place to work.”

Rick Waite, public relations and human resources manager for Oak Valley Hardwoods, could not say when renovations to the plant might begin.

Nor could Waite say when the company would begin hiring. It’s also too early to say how people can apply for jobs.

“We don’t know that yet,” he said. “Currently ,Stanley Furniture has some equipment in there, and they have a lease to wind down their operations for up to a year.”

“We don’t have date [to begin operations],” Waite added. “We just now got possession of the building.”

Oak Valley Hardwoods, which operates lumber, sawmill and dry kiln facilities to produce a variety of wood products, plans to invest more than $10.1 million during the next five years to expand operations in Graham County.

The summer closing of Stanley Furniture meant the loss of the county’s largest employer; in September, Graham had North Carolina’s highest unemployment rate at 12.1 percent.

Stanley Furniture made Young America furniture designed to carry a child “from crib to college.” The company’s board of directors claimed the plant was no longer profitable.

Oak Valley Hardwoods will run a kiln operation in the former Stanley plant, Waite said.

“We are trying to figure out [how] to get a kiln there and will expand the dry kiln there,” he said. “It’s a huge, huge plant.”

The purchase was announced in early November. Oak Valley Hardwoods is a subsidiary of Tides and Times Group USA and exports American lumber, primarily to China and Vietnam. The 10-year-old company has operations across North Carolina including Rutherford, Haywood, Caldwell, McDowell and Polk counties employing more than 160 workers.

“We are excited about the opportunity to expand our operations into Graham County,” Oak Valley Hardwoods Chief Executive Officer Jimmy Lee said in a news release. “It has been a pleasure working with the town of Robbinsville, Graham County, and the state of North Carolina, and we appreciate the support we have received. We plan on moving into the old Stanley Furniture building quickly and look forward to a successful 2015.”

In making the announcement, Gov. Pat McCrory referred to Oak Valley as “another one of North Carolina’s great homegrown success stories.”

Word of someone moving into the Stanley Furniture plan was good news for Joyce Hill, who, like her husband, Ted, lost her job with the plant’s closing. Both worked there for 15 years.

“We’re in our 50s, and it’s hard to find a job [here,]” Joyce Hill said. “We’ve lived here for about 16 years and didn’t want to move.”

Her husband found a job at Shaw Industries, a manufacturer of flooring in Bryson City. Less than a month ago, Joyce Hill began working in the molding department at ConMet, which is next door to Shaw. ConMet manufacturers the interiors for truck cabs.

She doesn’t expect to apply for a job at Oak Valley. Her husband, however, might.

“I don’t have the skills,” she said.

The news about Oak Valley has lightened the mood in Robbinsville.

“Everybody seems a little excited,” Joyce Hill said.

Sheila Phillips, the 22-year owner of Town Florist in Robbinsville, said some former Stanley Furniture workers have found work in Bryson City and Murphy, while others have returned to school.

“We’re a small town,” Phillips said. “We don’t have much here, other than a grocery store. It [Stanley’s closing] was just hard. People don’t have anywhere to work. I think it will be great to have something here so people don’t have to leave for work.”

Her own business has suffered some.

“We still do quite a bit of funeral work,” Phillips said.

Oak Valley Hardwoods is excited about bringing jobs back to Robbinsville, Waite said.

“I think it’s fantastic,” he said. “We do care about our employees. I can’t imagine how they feel, how they lost their livelihoods.”

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Gwen Albers is a contributing reporter to Carolina Public Press. Contact her at galbers_reporter@yahoo.com.

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