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HVO opening brings new jobs to Haywood County

With the snip of a ribbon last Friday, Haywood County gained a new manufacturing facility and the promise of 75 new jobs thanks to Haywood Vocational Opportunities, who christened their new Westwood facility.

The 117,000-square-foot space was once home to Wellco Enterprises, but when the plant was shuttered in 2009, HVO snapped it up, renovating 70 percent of the space for use in its medical product manufacturing operation.

The opening ceremony included state Sen. Joe Sam Queen (D-Waynesville), who is in a re-election bid, Rep. Ray Rapp (D-Mars Hill), Waynesville Mayor Gavin Brown, as well as other local officials, HVO employees and local residents who were taken on tours showcasing the new facility and various bells and whistles.

The new plant will expand the operations that started in the company’s Riverbend Street building, providing more space for production and more job opportunities for local adults with disadvantages and disabilities, which is HVO’s mission. HVO President George Marshall said that the Westwood center would allow them to branch out into automated assembly and other, more specialized ventures.

“This is going to allow us to diversify into higher tech jobs,” said Marshall, who is confident that the expansion and its accompanying growth will mean a boost in jobs at HVO.

“Over the next two years, we forecast and have pledged to create 75 new jobs within HVO,” Marshall said. And this was, indeed, part of the deal Marshall and his company made when Waynesville officials agreed to apply for a grant from the N.C. Rural Development Center on behalf of the company in 2009. At the time, Marshall agreed to meet the 40-job quota that came as a grant condition, but was, even then, promising 75.

For their part, town officials seemed delighted that the building was experiencing a rebirth rather than slipping into disrepair.

“Wellco left us, and had to probably, but luckily for us, George and HVO stepped in,” Brown told the assembled crowd. “The town of Waynesville is proud to work with HVO.”

State officials, too, lauded the company’s efforts, not only for its economic growth, but for a commitment to serving an often-overlooked segment of the county’s residents.

“What’s so important here is we’re serving those who need service most: our handicapped citizens,” said Queen. “It is something for everybody to be proud of.”

Many of the company’s employees were in attendance, and the ribbon that heralded the new plant’s official opening was cut by Bobby Wright, HVO’s longest-tenured worker.

The factory itself was buzzing busily, production steadily rolling on as guests toured around the gleaming new work floors and warehouses. Like HVO’s other plant, production here will run on three shifts, almost around the clock.

But, while the company’s growth and success are not negligible — Marshall said they’ve seen 10 percent growth during the last decade — this new arm would have been impossible without grants and loans given to the company by outside organizations.

The N.C. Rural Development Center grant chipped in $480,000, while the Golden LEAF Foundation ponied up another $300,000 in grant funding. The Cannon Foundation awarded the company some grant money as well.

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