ROCKINGHAM — Congressman Dan Bishop made a couple of stops in Richmond County Thursday as part of a week of meetings with local elected officials and business leaders in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District.
The first stop took him to the Richmond County Industrial Park for a tour of the American Woodmark plant. Woodmark is one of the world’s largest cabinet manufacturers. Bob Young, director of operations for the plant, shared the history of the company and the work they’ve done since Woodmark bought RSI in 2017 to hire local talent.
Young told Bishop that Woodmark had 79 employees when they made the purchase with a turnover rate of more than 400%, and they now have more than 200 employees and a turnover rate around 24%. This change was due in part to the company switching from relying on temps for their hiring pool to hiring directly, as well as doing work to create a community environment.
He credited Richmond Community College and its president, Dr. Dale McInnis, with training a reliable local workforce that now outnumbers the transfers from the company’s Lincolnton branch, which is west of Charlotte.
“This community has rocked my world,” Young said of Richmond County. “When I first drove in here … I was very concerned, the stories were terrible.”
On any “bad image” Richmond County may have, Young told the congressman “I don’t see it.”
“This community has on-tap resources like you wouldn’t believe,” said Young.
Bishop, a Bladen County-native, told Young as they walked through the rows of cabinet parts and machinery that a sense of community is “one of the values that is sort of failing … in America.”
“To develop long-term employment skills and attitudes — that’s how you build back a middle class,” Bishop said.
Bishop said in an interview that in order to replicate the successes Young outlined he will advocate for fair trade policies, and said he’s been encouraged by the country’s pivot away from “theoretical, doctrinal free trade in which we’ve seen our middle class harmed over a period of time by harming our manufacturing base.”
“I do think wise policy in which an American government that acts aggressively on behalf of its own people can pay dividends,” Bishop said.
The former state senator said that his run for Congress last year representing the GOP after the turmoil in Republican Mark Harris’ campaign was “unexpected,” and the late do-over election tightened the time frame for him to get to know his district. He told the audience at the Chamber Thursday afternoon, which included County Manager Bryan Land, Board of Commissioners Chairman Kenneth Robinette, C.F. Smith Property Group CEO Neil Robinette, Chamber President Emily Tucker, and Young that rural communities in North Carolina face a lot of challenges.
“But one thing that I think (rural communities) have got as an asset is you have deep community roots that are permanent and generational,” he said. “I think if we get trade policy right so that the economics of running businesses here are not artificially disabled by the brutality of the economic policy and trade policy we’ve operated under for 15, 20 years, I think it gives opportunity for people like (Woodmark) to make this thing work by those traditional values that we all share regardless of party.”
Kenneth Robinette touted the county’s work to streamline the process of bringing in new industry as a major factor in overcoming the loss of the once thriving textile industry in the area, and reducing unemployment to below 5%. He said “we would never be as successful as we are today” without McInnis and RCC training the local workforce.
Bishop said he wants to be someone that communicates with local leaders and community members in his district.
“I’ve published my cell phone number — and occasionally I get an unusual call,” he said. “I think if you want to do this you ought to want to be in touch with people.”
Reach Gavin Stone at 910-817-2673 or [email protected]