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Ashley Furniture breaks ground on big N.C. plant expansion

 Officials applaud at Wednesday’s groundbreaking ceremony for the Ashley plant expansion in Advance N.C. From left are Bill Koslo, Ashley attorney; Sharon Decker, North Carolina Department of Commerce secretary; Ron Wanek, Ashley chairman; North Carlina Gov. Pat McCrory; Todd Wanek, Ashley president and CEO; Terry Bralley, Davie County Economic Development Commission; and John Skvarla, secretary of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.Officials applaud at Wednesday’s groundbreaking ceremony for the Ashley plant expansion in Advance N.C. From left are Bill Koslo, Ashley attorney; Sharon Decker, North Carolina Department of Commerce secretary; Ron Wanek, Ashley chairman; North Carlina Gov. Pat McCrory; Todd Wanek, Ashley president and CEO; Terry Bralley, Davie County Economic Development Commission; and John Skvarla, secretary of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
 Ashley Chairman Ron Wanek, left, receives a plate with the North Carolina State Seal from North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory.Ashley Chairman Ron Wanek, left, receives a plate with the North Carolina State Seal from North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory.

ADVANCE, N.C. — After months of delays due to the discovery of wetlands on its 640-acre site here, Ashley Furniture broke ground Wednesday on the next phase of what will be an $80 million, 3.8 million-square-foot manufacturing and distribution center.

In what the Arcadia, Wis.-based company calls "one of the largest investments ever made in the worldwide furniture industry," the company held a groundbreaking ceremony for a 1.04-million-square-foot expansion of the facility.

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory and a host of other state and local government and business representatives attended the event. Officials present included Sharon Decker, N.C. Secretary of Commerce, and John Skvarla, Secretary of the state's Department of Health and Natural Resources.

The event was also attended by several hundred Ashley reps who were transported in to the site on 10 buses late Wednesday afternoon. They had arrived at market early for a one-day leadership training workshop at High Point University.

McCrory recounted how he and other officials, including Skvarla, met with Wanek shortly after discovering Wanek's displeasure with the delays, which included dealing with complexities involving North Carolina's new building codes.

McCrory said that instead of delaying things further, officials worked to help resolve these issues within a matter of weeks. Part of that process, he and Skvarla said, was to help the company work through the maze of regulations and not let those regulations stonewall the project.

"We are here because of a team effort," the governor said. "We love having this new Wisconsin blood here in North Carolina."

The Advance site, about 40 minutes west of High Point, currently has about 1.7 million square feet of developed buildings, now used mainly for warehousing and storage of product and manufacturing equipment. Roughly 80,000 square feet is devoted to temporary upholstery manufacturing.

Expected to be completed sometime early next year, the expansion will add more than 1 million square feet of warehousing and distribution. It will also devote about 400,000 square feet to upholstery and case goods manufacturing in the existing 418,000 square-foot facility now being used to warehouse project.

A second phase will later add another 1.02 million square feet to the project.

Ashley recently received a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers to resume construction on its facility, said Bill Koslo, an attorney who has represented Ashley for several decades. Company officials were pleased to have resolved the wetlands issues and be resume construction on the facility, which is eventually expected to employ more than 500 workers.

"We are very excited to be in North Carolina and appreciate the efforts of every one who made this happen," said Todd Wanek, president and CEO.

Ashley Chairman Ron Wanek said he is pleased with the site and the facility, a former R.J. Reynolds plant and distribution facility, which he said is well engineered and has been well maintained over the years. He said the excellent condition of the buildings is indicative of the type of work force in North Carolina, a key reason the company chose to locate here.

"You can always tell an attitude by the way a facility is kept," he said. "This is well built, Rolls Royce quality. The quality of the work force is evident in the way it was kept."

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