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Beleaguered Caldwell Looking for Better Times

   Lenoir is the government seat of Caldwell County, a long-time center of furniture manufacturing in the state's western foothills. That industry has been hard hit of late due to Asian imports, with the county's manufacturers
The Raleigh skyline will get a 33-story addition when RBC Centura's new headquarters (pictured in rendering) is completed in late 2008. Ground was broken on the $100 million-plus project in September. RBC Centura is the U.S. banking subsidiary of the Royal Bank of Canada.
cashiering thousands of its workers over the last few years. Layoffs in the textile sector have combined to give the county one of the state's higher unemployment rates.
   But there are signs the county's economic malaise may soon be mitigated. In August, Vantage Foods, a Canadian meat processing specialist, announced it would create nearly 200 jobs with a $21-million investment in a new case-ready meat processing facility to supply Alex Lee, a holding company of food suppliers based in the region. Vantage's operation will cut beef into steaks, roasts and other products, then wrap, label and send to end users. Leonal Kilgore, president of Vantage Foods U.S. says Lenoir's supply of former furniture factory workers looking for employment was a big draw for the company to locate its first U.S. facility.
   "We looked at different states in that area close to our customer Alex Lee and it came down to the availability of a labor force and the economic incentives that were available," Kilgore says.
   Most of the labor will be unskilled and Vantage will provide all the necessary training, Kilgore says. Vantage has long-range plans to expand further in the U.S. with other processing plants as business warrants, he says.
   But the big news for Lenoir could lie ahead later this year or in early 2007. Speculation has been rampant since word leaked in July that a major Internet firm might locate a $1-billion server farm there to take advantage of the state's relatively low industrial electric rates. What is known is the county has rapidly assembled a large industrial site in hopes of landing a major company. State and local government officials have been sworn to secrecy on the project.
   But in an interview with Site Selection on a variety of state topics, Gov. Mike Easley hinted that good news might soon be coming to Caldwell.

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