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Charleston Forge lays off 34
By Frank Ruggiero

Though Charleston Forge recently celebrated its 21st anniversary, the homegrown company is suffering some life-changing growing pains.

On Thursday, Nov. 10, the local furniture manufacturer laid off 34 of its employees, some having dedicated 18 years to the company. According to the Watauga County Employment Security Commission, seven were laid off in one of the company’s manufacturing plants, and 27 in the other.

Charleston Forge operates two plants, one located in the Watauga County Industrial Park and the other on George Wilson Road.

The layoffs come during an economically turbulent time for the state, with North Carolina’s manufacturing sector having suffered innumerable layoffs. In fact, Charleston Forge co-founder Art Barber, who also serves as the company’s chairman and chief executive officer, said the company has been fortunate to retain those jobs as long as it has.

“We’ve been fighting it for a long time,” Barber said. “The industry’s just in a slump. We’ve been fighting not to be caught up in it, but it's caught up with us. With the economy as it is, fuel prices and raw material costs are just skyrocketing.”

In today’s economic climate, consumer confidence has dwindled and furniture is now considered a luxury item, Barber added.

Azalee Simandle, director of the local Employment Security Commission, said ESC staff visited the two plants on Thursday to discuss the 34 workers’ options. She said they applied for the Trade Adjustment Assistance Act, a federal program that will allow them to draw unemployment benefits for a longer period of time, while taking extra schooling and undergoing retraining.

They’ll also receive regular unemployment benefits, she said.

“These are 34 good people that some lucky employer in this county’s going to pick up,” Barber said. “They’re very good people, and they didn’t do a blame thing wrong.”

The two plants will continue to operate, and Barber said the company’s management team has developed a strategy to help Charleston Forge recuperate.

“We’re consolidating some of our facilities, we had some duplicated processes, and we’re now eliminating the duplication,” Barber said. “We’ve got a plan in place, but it’s just sad that there’s not enough business to support everyone we have. It’s a good country out there, though, and we’ll find the business.”

According to Barber, Charleston Forge currently employs 200.

*Frank Ruggiero can be contacted at ruggiero@wataugademocrat.com


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