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$1M Loan 'Exela-rates' NC's Pharma Future After Furniture

Exela Pharma's new site in Lenoir, former headquarters of Broyhill, once world's largest privately held furniture maker. (Photo compliments of Deborah Murray, Caldwell County EDC)

In another graphic example of the state’s growing new life-science economy replacing the old, a western North Carolina contract pharmaceutical manufacturing company is moving into the former Lenoir headquarters of Broyhill, once the world's largest privately owned furniture maker.

Exela Pharma Sciences is expanding in the former Broyhill headquarters building and property on U.S. 321 in Caldwell County, to accommodate more R&D, office and manufacturing operations. It’s expected to not only protect the jobs of Exela’s 50 current employees, but also create about 40 new jobs for an area devastated by the loss of furniture manufacturing in recent years.

Exela employees earn an average $47,395 a year, plus benefits, making injectable and ophthalmic pharmaceuticals. The Calldwell County average annual salary is only $29,640, and employment as of July 2013 exceeded 10 percent.

The company’s $8.5 million expansion in the 140,000-square-foot building on the 43-acre site may also soon be helped by a $1 million, 10-year interest-free loan from the United States Department of Agriculture.

Utilites manage USDA loans

The loan is among the latest from USDA's Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant program (REDLG). It provides zero-interest loans and grants to local utilities which then, in turn, lend the funds to local businesses for projects that will create and retain employment in rural areas.

The program funds business start-ups or expansions, business incubators, education and training facilities and equipment, community development assistance, health care and other community projects that support rural jobs.

The USDA is funneling this loan through Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corporation, the electric cooperative serving some 74,000 members in northwest North Carolina. With approval of its board of directors, Blue Ridge will handle disbursement and oversight of the loan.

Partnerships needed to jumpstart economy

"Exela is very pleased to have been considered for this award," said Phanesh Koneru, Ph.D., Exela president and CEO. "We are grateful to the leadership at Blue Ridge Electric, as well as the leadership at Caldwell County and the City of Lenoir for their continuing support. This public-private partnership with the support of the U.S. government, in this case the Department of Agriculture, is exemplary and what is needed to jumpstart our economy."

Blue Ridge Electric has worked closely with the Caldwell Economic Development Commission and other entities in supporting Exela's growth. Exela got a $189,000 grant in early 2013 from the One North Carolina Fund, a state grant program to promote technology-based industries.

"We are very dedicated to the critical issue of economic development and are working in multiple ways to support job retention and growth so we're very excited to be approved for these funds that can help Exela and our local community," said Doug Johnson, Blue Ridge Electric CEO. "We look forward to finalizing all the details and moving forward with this project in the very near future."

Lenoir is also home to GREER Laboratories, a 110-year-old company employing some 250 people developing and distributing animal and human allergy and immunotherapy products and services.

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