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Four years ago a group of people decided that furniture manufacturing was not a lost art in western North Carolina and took over a closed factory in Valdese.
29 people worked on the floor cutting fabric and building chairs and sofas. Today, 129 people work at the plant and business is strong, say company owners. Kellex Seating's success, they say, is the result of quality employees and a quality product.
Bob Crane was the first one hired four years ago. He had been in the furniture industry for decades and wasn't sure this new venture would work. "I really didn't think so," he said Thursday. Instead, he has seen the company grow and believes there is a future for furniture again in Western North Carolina.
Plant manager Donald Gray said many of the people hired over the past four years are veterans of layoffs and plant closings and were determined not to go through that again. The key to success here, he says, is the commitment to customer service. The best way to compete with overseas manufacturers is in the quality and timely delivery of the product. "If a customer can dream it up, we can build it," he said.
On Wednesday, employees shut down the factory for an hour and gathered on the loading dock for lunch and to celebrate what they all have been through over the past four years. The fact that the company has more than survived the recession is a testament, they said to hard work.
Officials hope this is just the beginning of good times returning for at least some segments of the furniture industry in the Carolinas. "We are here, we're alive, and we're growing," said one official.