HAMLET — When Richmond County’s Therafirm sends off a shipment of support hose to China this year, the 90-person operation will make a tiny little chip in America’s balance of trade.
Which is one reason the plant south of Hamlet has won the distinction of being North Carolina’s top rural exporter. Gov. Roy Cooper announced the honor Wednesday in a ceremony at the Executive Mansion in Raleigh.
“We are thrilled with this,” plant manager Ken Hartley said Thursday. “I mean, (we’re) beyond being thrilled.
“I think it’s recognition for the county; I think it’s recognition for the caliber of workers” available in Richmond County.
Cooper presented five Governor’s Export Awards, lauding the companies’ presence in the “global marketplace” — presence he said would give North Carolina a “strong business reputation around the world.”
The recognition comes not only from the governor but from the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, a public-private partnership operating under contract with the state’s Department of Commerce. The Partnership is governed by a 17-member board which includes Gene McLaurin, former Rockingham mayor and state senator.
Each of the winners worked with the EDPNC to expand its overseas operations, something Therafirm decided to undertake in 2015.
Therafirm — a division of Knit-Rite, of Kansas City, Kansas — moved to Hamlet’s Marks Creek Industrial Park off N.C. 177 from Ellerbe five years ago. The Ellerbe plant, which had become too small for Therafirm’s expanding operations, has been taken over by another hosiery operation.
On Thursday, Therafirm’s 90 employees worked to fabricate and ship thousands of pairs of compression and pantyhose.
To the steady hum of machinery, they stitched closed the toes of knee-high socks, sewed together two legs and a gusset to make pantyhose, and steamed and pressed their finished products on flat metal forms shaped like legs with toes extended.
The environmentally controlled plant runs three shifts, 24 hours, every day.
Therafirm is a small manufacturer, not in the top three or four companies to make compression hosiery. Instead, it works with smaller, independently owned pharmacies and medical-supply companies.
Still, its reach is broad — from the United Arab Emirates to Australia, Germany to the Philippines, South America to China, a new customer. One of its sales executive was in Dubai on Thursday.
Though the company exports to more than 50 counties, Hartley said, it imports nothing — unless you count the occasional employee from South Carolina or surrounding North Carolina counties. All of the materials used for its products are U.S. sourced.
“Therafirm has continued to thrive and grow without going offshore,” Hartley said. Last year alone, it increased its production and sales by 20 percent, he said, declining to release exact figures on either measure.
The other four export award winners honored this week were Blue Ridge Chair Works in Buncombe County, which manufactures portable outdoor furniture, top small-business exporter; Frontier Spinning Mills of Sanford, one of the world’s largest producers of spun yarns, top large-business exporter; New Growth Designs of Greenville, which produces artificial flowers and greenery, top new exporter; and Tri-Tech Forensics, which makes forensics products for use by law enforcement, top global reach exporter.
The Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public-policy organization in Washington, D.C., calculates that the exporting of goods and services supports 370,000 jobs in North Carolina.
Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2573 or [email protected]