HAMLET — For the second time in 10 days, the teamwork of Richmond County officials to increase economic development was praised.
Last week, it was when the county was designated as a Certified Work Ready Community by NCWorks.
This time, it was during a ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday for RSI Home Products’ new facility in the Richmond County Industrial Park — an event that brought Gov. Pat McCrory to town.
Jeff Hoeft, president of RSI, said the company was looking to expand a year ago and “went to a lot of communities.”
Several factors went into his company choosing to locate in the county, he said, including the local support of U.S.-based manufacturing, the current business-friendly climate in North Carolina and how the community college prepares students “to go to work.”
He also said the economic development team — Martie Butler, County Manager Rick Sago and Assistant County Manager Bryan Land — did a “fantastic job” of touting the county’s workforce.
“Without them being assured they could find the talent, this wouldn’t be here today,” Hoeft said.
This is the seventh project that RSI has partnered with The Keith Corporation, and the second in North Carolina. The cabinet manufacturer has a 1 million square-foot plant in Lincoln County, which Hoeft said is considered the flagship manufacturing facility.
“It’s great to see another expansion of this company in North Carolina,” said Alan Lewis, a partner at The Keith Corp. “Especially in this county.”
While praising “the teamwork of everyone involved” — including Choate Construction and Wells Fargo, which provided the financing — Lewis called Sago the best county manager in the state.
Other companies involved in the project include: Anson Contractors, Barnhill Contracting, LKC Engineering, MA Engineering, Distribution Construction, Piedmont Natural Gas, AT&T, Pee Dee Electric and the N.C. Department of Transportation.
“This came together pretty quickly,” he said, with the announcement and groundbreaking taking place in early March and operations beginning in October.
The new 300,000 square-foot facility is expandable to 800,000 square feet, which gives RSI some room to grow in the future, Lewis said.
McCrory said that Richmond County’s unemployment rate has been cut in half in the past several years, after having one of the highest in the country.
“As other industries see this success in Richmond County…other people are going to be coming,” he said.
Citing an old slogan of the N.C. Chamber of Commerce —“Working together works” — state Rep. Ken Goodman, D-Richmond, praised the vision of the county commissioners to create the industrial park years ago.
He also said the General Assembly has passed legislation in recent years, “making it easier to do business in North Carolina.”
“We do that in a bi-partisan way,” said Goodman, who is also chairman of the business-friendly Main Street Democrats caucus. “That’s something you don’t hear about a lot in the media.”
After thanking Dr. Pat Mitchell, assistant secretary for rural economic development at the N.C. Department of Commerce, for her role in helping RSI come together, state Sen. Tom McInnis, R-Richmond, boasted the economic upswing dubbed the “Carolina Comeback.”
“We hear rumors of it,” usually in metro instead of rural areas, he said. “Today it’s real, we’re witnessing it today…and we ain’t stopping here.”
In his pastoral tone, Sen. McInnis heralded the community college system as “North Carolina’s best kept secret,” praising the vocational training provided and how the college’s work with local industries to create a skilled workforce.
“He’s preaching now!” said McCrory. “Are we supposed to say Amen?”
The senator, who has made improving rural areas in the state one of his main priorities, said the legislature would be working to expand vocational opportunities for community college students.
Dr. Dale McInnis, president of Richmond Community College, said his meeting with Hoeft was the first time the president of a company wanted to meet one-on-one.
“This company understands people are the greatest asset,” he said of RSI.
He also said that the company’s corporate values were similar to those of the county.
“As you continue to grow, we will be side by side,” he said, adding that the college will give employees the skills and knowledge they need to meet the company’s needs. “We’re going to keep growing together.
“It takes a great team to make things happen,” he continued. “If you’re looking for the formula for rural economic development, it’s here in Richmond County.”
Richmond County leads the Sandhills Region in economic development, according to Kenneth Robinette, chairman of the Richmond County Board of Commissioners, with 47 percent of all total jobs announced and 53 percent of total investment.
This year alone, the county has had five economic development announcements, heralding more than 300 new jobs —175 of which came from RSI.
“Thank you for investing in Richmond County,” Robinette said, turning to Hoeft. “And thank you for having faith in us.”
Reach William R. Toler at 910-817-2675 and follow him on Twitter @William_r_Toler.