FOR ACME UNITED, A ‘CAN-DO’ SPIRIT LED TO ROCKY MOUNT
By Lawrence Bivins
As the seasoned CEO of a publicly-held company, Walter Johnsen is adept at overcoming technical obstacles that stand between his business and its expansion strategy. In 2013, as he and ACME United Corporation sized up a vacant Rocky Mount furniture warehouse, the supportive nature of local and state leaders quickly became evident. “It was an abandoned building surrounded by grass about two-feet high,” recalls Johnsen, chairman and CEO of the Connecticut-based company.
Getting the grass cut at the 33-acre site wasn’t a problem, and the company – after considering rival locations in other states, as well as China – soon closed on the property for $2.8 million and began investing another half million dollars in its up-fit. When a prominent city official realized the 340,000-sq.-ft. building lacked an adequate sewer line, he offered to have one put in. “Mayor [David] Combs did that in a heartbeat,” Johnsen says. “He said he would, and he did it.”
ACME United [NYSE: “ACU”] is a global supplier of cutting devices, measuring instruments and safety products for schools, homes and offices. The company can trace its corporate roots to an 1867 shear and scissor shop in New England. These days, its global sales total $130.5 million. The Rocky Mount location assembles and distributes products under the Westcott, PhysiciansCare and Clauss brands to retail buyers that include Home Depot, WalMart, Costco and Amazon. The company’s arrival to Edgecombe County came amid rapid growth that made the modest operations it had long maintained in Fremont inadequate. In addition to having the right-sized building at the fair price, ACME’s existing employees could make the 40-minute drive to Rocky Mount.
“We like the way North Carolina treats us,” Johnsen says, citing support from the Carolinas Gateway Partnership and the N.C. Department of Commerce, in addition to the assistance received from the Mayor’s Office. “It’s a can-do business environment and a great place to work.” In some states and provinces where the company operates, seemingly simple tasks like getting a building permit to change an office configuration can drag on for months. “But our experiences in Rocky Mount have been good – very good,” says Johnsen. “That makes a difference.”
The company employs about 100 workers on average at its Rocky Mount location, but that number can swell to 150 during summers as ACME moves product out in time for back-to-school season. “Right now, we’re at the busiest part of the year,” says Human Resources Manager Vernetta Gupton on a mid-June day. The company recruits through area temp agencies. “When we have full-time openings and those candidates meet the requirements, they can compete for permanent positions,” explains Gupton. ACME also partners with local colleges for student workers during summers. “We’re happy with the workforce here and happy to provide people in this community with job opportunities.”
Gupton, a Rocky Mount native, recalls a time when textiles flourished in the region and “the economy was a little better.” Globalization began taking its toll in the early 2000s, with companies and people leaving. “But since then the area has been in an uptrend,” she says. ACME’s success here, along with the arrival of new names like Corning and Triangle Tyre, have given her and other longtime residents cause for optimism. “We’re heading in the right direction with companies and businesses moving here,” Gupton says. The area offers a strong quality-of-life, she adds, especially when it comes to healthcare. In addition to its own excellent medical center, Rocky Mount is within easy reach of large teaching hospitals both in Greenville and the Triangle, Gupton points out.
Serving both domestic and international buyers, ACME United’s Rocky Mount facility is the company’s primary distribution and warehousing center. “Proximity to I-95 and the Port of Virginia was something we needed,” says Ben George, vice president of distribution at ACME. The site receives raw materials from both U.S. and foreign suppliers -- assembling and packaging its products under the various ACME brands for shipment throughout North America and abroad via ports in Norfolk and Florida. Beyond the seasonal spikes, demand for the company’s school supplies business is largely impervious to recession. “We’re diversified enough to avoid cycles in the market,” George explains.
The company shows its support for communities in the Twin Counties – most notably, by giving thousands of dollars’ worth of its own school supplies to area schools. “We donate quite a bit of product every school year,” says George. The company also engages the community through it work with the Rocky Mount Area United Way, the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Tar River Region and other local charities.
Johnsen, who is based at ACME United’s Connecticut headquarters, sees the company’s Rocky Mount footprint growing larger and more important. “It’s really only beginning right now,” he says. “The importance of that site is very real.” He is especially excited about plans for the Carolina Connector (CCX), the rail-to-highway freight transfer hub being developed by CSX Corporation less than three miles away. “Intermodal is a very important thing for us,” Johnsen says. CCX would cut shipping costs and delivery times significantly for ACME. Since 2013, “our business has grown substantially,” he adds. “We’ve got 33 acres to expand on, and there’s a real possibility we’re going to do that soon.”
KANBAN’S RISE AS A LOGISTICS POWERHOUSE SHOWCASES TWIN COUNTIES’ GLOBAL CONNECTIONS
By Lawrence Bivins
One consequence of globalization is that today’s companies must keep focused on core aspects of their business in order to stay competitive. Succeed-minded manufacturers, for example, concentrate on production while partnering with third-party logistics providers (3PLs) in creating and maintaining smooth supply chain networks and distribution channels.
Companies in the Mid-Atlantic have the advantage of working with Kanban Logistics to build reliable and affordable connections to buyers and suppliers worldwide. “Our business model is all about economies- of-scale,” explains Billy Wooten, chief executive officer of the Tarboro-based company. The firm’s customers can tap into a complete menu of warehouse, handling, packaging, transportation, e-fulfillment and other services. “Companies can share our expertise, equipment and technology instead of having to build their own supply-chains,” he says.
A family-owned company whose name means “just-in-time” in Japanese, Kanban relies on a strategic location, multi-modal infrastructure, affordable business costs and 40 years of experience in serving customers’ logistics needs. With a workforce of approximately 100, the firm currently occupies one million square-feet of warehouse space served by both rail and interstate-quality highways. Sites in Tarboro and Rocky Mount, for example, are only a few minutes to I-95. About 75 percent of the U.S. consumer population lives within a 12-hour drive.
Rail accessibility also helps Kanban serve customers. The company’s facilities are served by CSX Transportation, whose east-west and north-south lines make for convenient and affordable movement of raw materials and finished products. “Rail gives clients another option,” Wooten says. It can also help companies manage their carbon footprints. “Rail has three and a half times less emissions than trucks on the highway,” he explains. “That’s huge for our clients.”
Kanban also connects customers with the global marketplace. Deepwater ports in Norfolk, Morehead City and Wilmington can be reached in about two hours. “We’re well-positioned as a logistics hub for the entire Mid-Atlantic region,” Wooten says. And those connections are set to grow even closer in coming years with the development of a Raleigh-to-Norfolk interstate corridor. The 2013 designation of I-495 from Rocky Mount to the Raleigh beltline puts part of the corridor already in place. The remaining piece, which will be dubbed I-87, will provide interstate access to the “back door” of the Port of Virginia.
Kanban also facilitates air-based movement of goods on behalf of its customers. “Rocky Mount to RDU International Airport is about an hour and ten minutes,” says Wooten, whose company’s trucks deliver cargo regularly to RDU. “We deliver products, mostly components and parts, every day to be shipped out via air,” he says.
Unique among 3PLs in eastern North Carolina, Kanban serves as an active Foreign Trade Zone, giving manufacturers and assembly businesses flexibility and cost-savings in sourcing parts from abroad. “We’re a general purpose FTZ – sort of like a convenience store open to the general public,” explains Wooten. Companies from Virginia to Georgia work with Kanban to maximize the benefits the zone provides.
Having been an FTZ since 2003, Kanban has amassed valuable expertise on the myriad rules governing foreign trade zones. “It’s highly regulated by the federal government, and there are a lot of reporting requirements,” according to Wooten. “But we have the personnel in place to handle all that.”
While few of its competitors can match Kanban’s geographic and infrastructure advantages, human factors account for much of the company’s success. “We have very little turnover in our management,” Wooten says. Some employees have been with the company for nearly three decades.
Good workers are critical to the company’s ISO accreditation. Its AS-9100 certification, for example, enables Kanban to handle products on behalf of aerospace and defense industry customers. The company’s Rocky Mount facility is also food-certified, adhering to national standards for climate control and sanitation. “Certifications help us promote our business in the marketplace,” says Wooten. Rock-bottom levels of unionization in the Twin Counties also boost Kanban’s cost-competitiveness vis-à-vis 3PLs in Virginia and Maryland.
Support for Kanban’s talent base is available from nearby Edgecombe Community College, which offers a certificate program in Global Logistics & Distribution Management. The college also screens applicants and provides basic training for the company’s new hires. Not far away, Nash Community College has an Associates degree program in Global Logistics and Distribution Management Technology. East Carolina University offers a distribution technology concentration as part of its undergraduate business curriculum. “ECU has been a terrific resource for us, and will continue to help us grow the business into the future,” Wooten says.
Growth is definitely on the horizon for the company. “Eastern North Carolina is emerging as a center for food manufacturers, and that will likely continue driving a large part of our business,” Wooten says. At the same time, bio-pharma production is surging in and around the Research Triangle, which has also spells opportunity for Kanban. “We’re positioned well for advanced manufacturers of all kinds,” he adds.
Despite exciting prospects for continued success, homegrown Kanban stays true to its Edgecombe County roots. Wooten serves on the county’s Board of Commissioners, bringing his business acumen and leadership skills to a community whose future he cares deeply about. Life there enables him to pursue long-held passions for historic preservation and the outdoors. He and his family live in a restored Tarboro home originally built in 1790. Wooten enjoys taking his wife and two children boating along the North Carolina coast just a short drive east. “This community and the pace of life here are ideal for spending time with family,” he says.
ROCKY MOUNT SITE CONNECTS CARGO TRANSPORTERS TO SCARCE TALENT
By Lawrence Bivins
Even though Cargo Transporters Inc. opened its Rocky Mount terminal less than two years ago, the site has already proven itself effective in connecting the company with its main objective: recruiting and retaining truck drivers.
“The facility has delivered what we hoped it would,” says Daniel Barnes, executive vice-president of CT Management, Inc., Cargo Transporters’ parent company. “We’ve been successful finding people in eastern North Carolina who want to work for us.”
Headquartered in Claremont, North Carolina, privately-held Cargo Transporters is a truckload carrier serving the continental United States. It is part of a family of companies involved in transportation, logistics, truck leasing and warehousing whose corporate roots stretch back to 1966. “It started from a very modest beginning with the founders and a fleet of about five to ten trucks initially,” Barnes says. Today, Cargo Transporters operates about 500 trucks, and its 800-person workforce includes 600 truck drivers. The company’s customers include prominent “big-box” retailers.
Its growth prospects hinge on recruiting and retaining qualified workers. With record low unemployment rates, employers everywhere are facing this challenge. But shortages are particularly acute among truck drivers. Nationally, as many as 40,000 truckers are needed to fill open positions, according to the American Trucking Association. “We grow because of our ability to hire and keep a good workforce of drivers,” says Barnes. “One of the reasons we located in eastern North Carolina was to facilitate the recruitment of drivers.”
Cargo Transporters currently domiciles about 130 trucks at its new site, a neatly developed 20-acre terminal in Edgecombe County’s Fountain Industrial Park. The property includes offices, a driver lounge, orientation facilities, maintenance shop and parking both for trucks and staff vehicles. “We built it from the ground up,” says Barnes, explaining that the firm’s prior expansions involved acquisition of existing terminals.
Barnes and his colleagues sought an eastern North Carolina location near I-95. The site would put them close to both truckers and customers. Its search considered Rocky Mount and Wilson. “The initial concept was for a central trailer parking area and a place for our drivers to put their personal vehicles while they were on the road,” Barnes recalls. Among the possibilities were several older terminals that were for sale. But none fit the company’s specifications for size and condition. “Ultimately, we decided the best course of action was to buy a piece of property and develop it,” he says.
Officials at Carolinas Gateway Partnership helped Cargo Transporters identify a ready property at Fountain Industrial Park that was available for purchase. “The lot was already graded and fit our needs perfectly,” says Barnes. The Partnership also introduced company officials to Smithson Inc., the Rocky Mount-based design/build firm. Smithson had experience developing terminals and truck dealerships around North Carolina. “They were very knowledgeable,” Barnes says. “It was a much quicker process than coming up with an architect and then finding a builder.” So impressed were Cargo Transporters’ executives that they later engaged Smithson on an expansion at its Claremont operations.
“Our decision to move to Rocky Mount was driven a lot by the ability to recruit talent in the form of professional drivers,” says John Pope, chairman of Cargo Transporters. “We felt like the area was untapped.”
A convergence of factors has led to the national shortage of truck drivers. Demography is chief among the issues. “In recent years a large number of professional drivers have retired, and there are fewer young people going into those careers,” says Pope, a grandson of one of the company’s founders. New technologies and governmental regulation place more burdens on driver training and credentialing. “Some people still have this presumption that just about anybody can hop up behind the wheel,” he says. Outdated perceptions linger. “Our industry has done a poor job of communicating to young adults on what we’re all about.”
For more than half a century, Cargo Transporters’ business philosophy has been based on consideration for employee well-being. “Since we’re privately-held, it’s easier to make decisions internally for the benefit of our employees,” Pope says. “We’ve always re-invested heavily in the company.” That includes adopting new technologies and spending on employee benefits. “We provide our drivers with the most advanced equipment and safety technology.” The formula has helped the company build a reputation as a “preferred employer” for professional drivers, an approach that ultimately influences the bottom-line. “When we take care of our employees they in turn take care of our customers,” Pope says.
The company also prides itself in community engagement, working with local public schools, universities and voluntary organizations. “We’re fortunate to have been successful and in a position to give back to the community,” says Pope. “It’s something we believe heavily in.” Cargo Transporters has helped provide educational technologies for middle-school students. It also supports Lenoir–Rhyne University and the Catawba Valley YMCA. “We try to help the communities we operate in,” he says.
The company’s Rocky Mount site has ample room to grow. Its property at Fountain Industrial Park, in fact, includes an additional 14 adjacent acres of undeveloped land. Moreover, Cargo Transporters’ facility is only 250 yards from CSX Corp’s Carolina Connector project, the $270 million multi-modal hub that will serve the Mid-Atlantic region.
Dan Barnes says the company didn’t know about the Connector when it was undertaking its site search, but it spells exciting opportunities for Cargo Transporters. “It’s going to be a stone’s throw from our property,” Barnes says. The CSX terminal is expected to boost the region’s logistics sector dramatically. “It will be a great advantage to industry in the area, and that will be beneficial to our business.”
BORN IN A GARAGE, OSSID NOW LEADS THE GLOBE IN FOOD PACKAGING SOLUTIONS
By Lawrence Bivins
Proximity to the nation’s major poultry producers makes Rocky Mount a convenient base for Ossid LLC, a diversified leader in packaging equipment and solutions. But there are other Twin County assets that make the company, part of the ProMach Group, productive and profitable.
The company’s customers venture from near and far to Ossid for training at the company’s 65,000-sq.-ft. facility at Fountain Industrial Park. “They come from all over the U.S., Canada, Mexico and other countries,” says Ernie Newell, vice president and general manager at Ossid. The company’s machines are sold to buyers as far away Australia, Europe and South America. “We have customers coming from all those locations to visit us.”
Ossid’s operations are about 75 minutes from RDU International Airport, and Rocky Mount’s quality hotel space is easily capable of accommodating customers visiting the company either for training or as part of the sales process. Those traveling to the facility by ground also find it accessible. “We have a lot of East Coast customers, and I-95 is great for them,” says Newell.
The company began in the late 1970s out of a two-car garage. It moved from a location in Scotland Neck to Rocky Mount in 1989. A decade later it was acquired by ProMach Inc., a privately-held company headquartered in suburban Cincinnati. ProMach has operations around the world, along with a portfolio of brands across the whole spectrum of packaging. “They’ve brought a lot to us in terms of the support and strength of a large organization,” says Newell, who began working at Ossid in 1983 while still a student at Tarboro High School. “But ProMach also allows us to operate more or less independently. They give us the guidance that we need while also allowing the flexibility to make our own day-to-day decisions.”
Ossid’s 80-person workforce in Rocky Mount includes 15 mechanical and electrical engineers holding bachelor’s and master’s degrees. “We’ve brought in engineers from Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida and the West Coast,” says Newell. Rocky Mount’s welcoming nature eases the recruitment process. “Our workforce is very family oriented,” he says. “It’s not hard to move here. You’re not an outsider for long.”
Employees with a taste for a larger metro area opt to live in the eastern Wake County suburbs and commute to Ossid. The 45-minute drive time is far more manageable than the daily slogs those in Chicago or Atlanta face, for example. “Access to Raleigh allows me to hire any engineers I need,” Newell says.
The balance of Ossid’s workforce is largely filled with workers trained by nearby community college partners. “We’ve hired good people out of Nash Community College’s machining program,” says Newell. The company also maintains a close relationship with Edgecombe Community College. “ECC has done several training programs for us, including Six Sigma,” Newell says. Such workforce development services are available at little or no cost to the company. “The support we’ve gotten from the community college system has been very good.”
The company’s talent base has enabled it to embrace opportunities in pharmaceutical and medical device packaging, a high-growth industry segment. But Ossid’s leadership is most evident in its design and manufacture of packaging equipment for fresh and processed meats. Its product lines include weigh-price labelers, case-ready tray overwrappers, horizontal form-fill-seal machines and in-motion case-weight scales.
Ossid customers include Sanderson Farms, Perdue, Butterball and Smithfield Foods. In particular, rising global consumption of chicken and turkey keeps the company’s Rocky Mount operations humming. In 2015, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization predicted poultry will account for over 50 percent of the world’s total meat production over the coming decade. Emerging markets such as China, Brazil and India are expected to provide most of the additional demand. Closer to home, changing dietary habits on the part of U.S. consumers account for surging domestic demand for chicken and turkey. Poultry enjoys a healthy image, while low feed costs and short production cycles keep retail prices more stable and affordable compared to beef and pork.
“People are eating a lot healthier than they used to,” says Jason Angel, Ossid’s vice president for sales and marketing. “Poultry is part of that.” He says the company’s buyers include large-scale producers as well as small and mid-sized chicken and turkey providers. “We continue to bring on new product lines and grow the business,” says Angel.
The company clearly values employee loyalty and rewards initiative and longevity. Angel started his career at Ossid at age 19 as an assembly-line technician. As part of ProMach, Ossid employees have access to global career development avenues through ProMach’s business lines and 25+ global product brands. “Opportunities are always arising to grow within the organization in many different ways,” Angel says.
AT KEIHIN CAROLINA, ASSEMBLING AUTO COMPONENTS STARTS WITH A TALENT PIPELINE
By Lawrence Bivins
Patrick Stallings likes setting goals.
At 18, the recent graduate of Southwest Edgecombe High School plans to pursue computer-engineering degrees at Edgecombe Community College and East Carolina University. He envisions a life and career in his native Edgecombe County. “It’s where I grew up and where I want to be,” says Stallings.
Thanks to Keihin Carolina Systems Technology, LLC (KCST), Stallings and other local grads are on clear paths toward promising careers. As an apprentice at Keihin, Stallings works at the company’s 147,000-sq.-ft. production site in Tarboro, working part-time as he pursues a Journeyman certificate. “My long-term goal is to stay here at Keihin and in Edgecombe County,” Stallings says.
KCST launched its apprenticeship program six years ago and has relied on close, mutually beneficial relationships with educational institutions since opening its state-of-the-art facility in Tarboro in 1998. The partnerships produce a reliable pipeline of local talent with the skills needed to assemble and test electrical components for Honda vehicles made around the world.
“When we came here, we knew we would need to hire from the local area, and they wouldn’t have any existing experience in the type of work we do,” explains David Catt, plant manager at KCST. The company quickly established ties with Edgecombe Community College, whose 120-acre campus sits just half a mile away. “ECC customized a training program specifically around our needs,” Catt says. All the company’s new-hires, regardless of prior experience, must complete 30 hours of basic training at the college.
Catt and his colleagues are vigilant in maximizing the quality of the KCST operations. The 465-worker plant maintains an ISO/TS-16949 quality certification specific to automotive-related product. In 2015, the North Carolina Chamber named the company North Carolina Manufacturer of the Year. KCST’s association with North Carolina State University’s Industrial Expansion Solutions helped it earn a Baldridge Milestone 3 award earlier this year.
“We’re a Tier One supplier to our customer,” Catt says. The plant assembles engine control units that are shipped from Tarboro to Honda assembly sites in four states, as well as to plants in Canada, China, Japan, Mexico, Thailand and the United Kingdom. “We’ve received awards and set benchmarks for best practices from Honda for our sustainability,” he says.
Keihin employs about 55 engineers in Tarboro, professionals drawn from graduates of East Carolina, N.C. State and other universities. The company’s educational partnerships are beneficial to both sides. Catt serves on the advisory board for State’s Industry Expansion Solutions, which offers quality, safety, sustainability and other expertise to companies across the state. The company funds scholarships in its name for students at local high schools, Edgecombe Community College and ECU’s College of Engineering and Technology. “We believe that being a good corporate citizen means giving back to the community,” Catt says.
The electronics classroom at Southwest Edgecombe High owes much to KCST’s engagement. “It started with supplies and minor parts,” recalls Frank Matthews, who teaches high school and college-level electronics courses there. The company even sent in personnel to help with teaching. Then came a total makeover of the classroom, complete with new paint and interiors, a large-screen TV, wireless network and audio system. “It’s first class,” says Matthews. “Everything they do and touch is first class.”
Keihin’s apprentices must be students from Southwest’s electronics program. The company selects two rising seniors each year. Applicants submit transcripts, attendance records and other materials. Those who pass must then undergo a 20-30 minute interview with company officials. “The interview was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done,” says Patrick Stalls, who applied for his apprenticeship upon advice from Matthews, then his teacher. “Many of the questions involved character,” he recalls, “what you would do and how you’d react to certain situations.”
Korey Corbitt heard about the apprenticeship opportunity from a KCST staff member who visited Southwest in 2012. “It sounded interesting,” recalls Corbitt, who completed the program in 2015 and is now enrolled in Manufacturing Technology studies at Edgecombe Community College as he works full-time at Keihin. “The company’s tuition reimbursement is based on grades,” he says. An ‘A’ earns 100 percent reimbursement, for example, while a ‘C’ gets only 50 percent. “There’s no reason not to work really hard and get an ‘A’,” says Corbitt.
Corbitt, who turns 21 in August, plans to pursue a Bachelor’s in electrical engineering once he completes his Associates degree at Edgecombe Community College. “I will still work at Keihin while I’m doing it.” He likes the way the company’s culture treats employees as family. “You make a lot of friends here,” Corbitt says. “And I love Honda. I have two Civics.”
BARNHILL CONTRACTING COMPANY’S FAMILY FRIENDLY APPROACH YIELDS 70 YEARS OF SUCCESS
By Lawrence Bivins
Across three generations, one aspect of the business culture at Barnhill Contracting Company has remain unchanged. “We fulfill our word,” says Allen Barnhill, senior vice president, who has been with the company for 40 years. “What we say we’re going to do, we do.”
Integrity lies at the heart of the company’s corporate values. The firm was founded in 1949 and currently employs 1,000 people across 12 North Carolina locations. “All employees are treated like family,” says Barnhill. “When an employee has a problem, we try to help.” The philosophy, while not simply the right thing to do, also makes strategic business sense. “Our employees feel that this is their company,” he adds. “They take ownership because of the way the family treats them.”
About 60 percent of the company’s work involves site infrastructure and highway construction. Among its first big projects was work on the Washington, D.C. beltway in the mid 1950s. More recently, Barnhill Contracting has built expressway bypasses in Bertie County, Wilmington and Goldsboro, and is now at work on similar projects in Greenville and Fayetteville.
Barnhill relies on a network of business partnerships, which its well-won reputation for integrity also helps foster. “We’ve been working with Barnhill for a long, long time,” says Randall Gattis, vice president of the bridge and heavy construction division at Sanford Construction Company in Sanford, N.C. The two firms share projects opportunities and more. “If Barnhill has a piece of equipment that would help us solve a problem, they’ll gladly go get it,” Gattis says. “And we’d do the same for them.”
Barnhill and Sanford often team up together on design/build projects. “We’ve been very successful with that,” says Gattis, who has worked in the construction industry for 40 years. “They have a high demand for quality, and so do we.” Longtime professional relationships – and often personal friendships -- between personnel at the two companies form the fabric of the partnership. “They know our people, and we know theirs,” he says. Gattis calls his collaboration with Barnhill Contracting “the pinnacle” of his career. “They’re that good.”
School buildings, public facilities and arts complexes account for the rest of Barnhill Contracting Company’s work. The firm is constructing the Steven Tanger Center, a 105,000-sq.-ft. performing arts center featuring a 3,000-seat theatre in Greensboro developed through a partnership between city and private donors. The $58 million facility is expected to open in early 2020. Barnhill is also at work on the Rocky Mount Event Center, a 177,600-sq.-ft. field house and community center set to open later this year. The company’s portfolio also includes K-12 and higher education buildings, renewable fuel facilities, mixed-use complexes and multi-unit residential projects. Barnhill’s footprint extends across the Carolinas, Virginia and elsewhere in the South.
Rob Barnhill, president of the company his grandfather founded, says about 40 employees work out of the firm’s Rocky Mount headquarters. The number includes executive-level personnel, human resource officers, administrative employees, estimators and project managers. Barnhill’s Highway Group and Grading and Paving Group each are based there. “Our best success is hiring people who are already from the area,” Barnhill says. “More and more, the folks we try to hire from outside are open to the idea of moving to the area.”
Barnhill is encouraged by the renewed vibrancy he sees and feels taking place in Rocky Mount. “There’s momentum building,” he says. The re-development of the historic Rocky Mount Mills into a regional destination for businesses, residents and visitors has captured the imagination of the millennial generation. “There’s definitely a sense that younger people are moving back,” says Barnhill. News of a coming $86 million Corning distribution center and Triangle Tire’s 800-job manufacturing plant has drawn global attention to the area. “The publicity has helped,” he says.
And there is equally meaningful progress that has escaped major headlines. Southern Bank’s new 18,000-sq.-ft. presence in downtown Rocky Mount houses mortgage operations and a call center, in addition to one of the bank’s largest branches. Not far away, a $13 million Biotechnology and Medical Simulation Center at Edgecombe Community College’s Rocky Mount campus is drawing more than 1,200 students from around North Carolina annually. Even the opening of a new Starbucks coffee house, the city’s first, is evidence of a sea-change for the Twin Counties.
“All of these things are helping our recruitment,” says Barnhill, who is a longtime member of the board of directors at Carolinas Gateway Partnership. “There’s a lot of building, and it feels good.”