For a century or more, Davidson County was synonymous with furniture manufacturing, sporting famous brands including Lexington, Thomasville and Stanley that thrived until the migration of manufacturing overseas in the 1990s and early 2000s. Now, an Austria-based company is looking to become a household name while returning large-scale furniture-making to the county of about 165,000. While Egger Group's particle-board worktops and cabinet components may not display the handcrafted quality of a Thomasville chair or Lexington bed, the company plans to add 770 jobs and invest $700 million in a county-owned industrial park near Interstate 85. It will be Egger's first U.S. manufacturing plant.
The first phase of the 15-year project calls for a $300 million investment and 400 jobs over six years, with an average annual wage of about $40,000. Davidson County's prevailing wage is about $37,000.
"Davidson County lies in the heart of North Carolina's furniture industry," says Karl Grasser, director of administration and finance for Egger Group. The company looked at 50 potential U.S. locations before picking the 200-acre site near Lexington.
Founded in 1961 and based in Austria's Tyrol region, the family-owned company has 8,200 employees at 17 plants and 25 sales offices worldwide. Revenue for the latest fiscal year exceeded $2.8 billion, according to the company's website. Egger's products are divided into three segments: particle-board furniture and interior-design elements such as windowsills; laminate flooring; and building products such as floorboards, studs and planks. The initial phase of the project will focus on furniture.
Egger sells its products directly to the furniture industry; to distributors and dealers; and, in the case of its flooring products, to big retailers such as Lowe's and Home Depot.
Already established in Europe, the company began ramping up efforts to improve U.S. and North American sales about two years ago, Grasser says. He cites Davidson County's business-friendly climate, the region's skilled workforce, and central location to New England, the Midwest and the South as reasons for choosing the site. The North Carolina Railroad Co. is investing $3.5 million to connect the plant, along with the rest of the industrial park, to Norfolk Southern's line running from Charlotte to Morehead City. The company...