LINCOLNTON, N.C. -- When we first told you about start up furniture maker Lincolnton Furniture Company back in September, the plant was quiet. There were a few workers, including founder Bruce Cochrane in the front office, but at that point Cochrane hadn't even been to the twice-yearly furniture market in High Point.
Four short months later, the place is a flurry of activity. These are samples we bought back from market, Cochrane said as we started our tour of the facility.
You could say Cochrane is writing the newest chapter in his family's furniture story.
My father and Uncle Jerry set the tone for fairness and safety and just a good place to work, he said.
The family had been in the business since the civil war. But in 1997, Cochrane Furniture sold and eventually the workers, many of whom had been with the family for years, lost their jobs to cheaper overseas labor.
So many people have come to me and said this is a place where I really enjoyed working and I didn't value it as much at the time as I did when I lost it. So that has been the great narrative, he added.
Fifteen years after his family company sold, Cochrane is walking through the very same building where generations of various local families worked. Production at Lincolnton Furniture Company is now officially underway with 48 people on the job: about half of what it would've taken years ago with less advance machinery. But the plan here is to ramp up to 130 employees by the end of the 1st quarter.
So many people who have come to work here have lost their confidence in what they can do and you know we have to encourage these people that the conditions that existed are why you were not working. It is not you, Cochrane explained.
The great news as positions are added, stores around the country are lining up to buy the solid wood dining room and bedroom sets that are now being made here.
People want to buy American, Cochrane said. I've been surprised at the depth at which people buy this line. We have five collections of dining room and bedroom and to have people come buy five groupings, or seven groupings or 10 groupings, I've never experienced that before in my career.
While Cochrane is out selling the product, employees like Joe Rudisill are making sure this new manufacturing operation runs smoothly. For Rudisill, coming back to work here is a homecoming with deep family ties.
My father worked at Cochrane Furniture for 48 years. He retired as plant manager and superintendent, he said.
Following in his father's footsteps, he worked at Cochrane for 33 years and stayed at the plant until the very last day.
I went to work at a custom cabinet shop and then business orders fell off and I got laid off there. I went to school for two years, said Rudisill. Just before graduation from Gaston College, Bruce Cochrane called and asked if he'd like to come to work. The answer was a resounding yes for many reasons. Coming on board here, I wasn't just helping myself. I knew I was going to be helping put other people to work too, he said.
To illustrate the need for jobs in the region around Lincolnton, more than 1200 people had applied for positions at last check. The company is adding more workers as production increases. To learn more, click here.
Rudisill isn't surprised by all of the attention Lincolnton Furniture Company is getting.
Cochrane went to the White House. He was a guest at the President's State of the Union address. And most recently, his story and the impact on Lincoln County was seen by a national audience on Rock Center with Brian Williams.
People realize that jobs in America mean a better America and everybody realizes that, Cochrane said.