From The Pilot 10/18/17: What is old will be new again when Flair Enterprises relocates its North Carolina upholstery factory to the former Klaussner Home Furnishings warehouse near Robbins.

Flair is a unit of Calgary, Alberta-based Minhas Furniture House, a family-owned business that recently closed on the 82-acre site.

Plans call for some renovation to the 125,000-square-foot building, with the company’s move expected to be completed by early next year. The Robbins site will be primarily utilized to manufacture and provide warehouse space for Flair’s popular lines of stationary and motion upholstery, dining room and other selected products.

“We are lucky to have Minhas come to our community. They are looking at creating 129 new jobs over the next five years,” said Robbins Town Manager David Lambert.

But the economic win extends far beyond Robbins.

The deal with Minhas reflects a coordinated effort that knitted together the interests and influence of the town, the county and Partners in Progress, a public/private partnership that promotes economic development across Moore County.

Lambert said he first heard about the possibility that Minhas was looking at Robbins from County Commissioner Otis Ritter. In time, Partners also reached out to let him know there was serious interest in the building. At that point the town and county worked together to develop incentives that could be used to attract and retain Minhas, with the goal being to encourage good quality jobs in the area.

“Robbins has been real intentional about building our community and the economy. We want to be a reasonable alternative to what others areas in Moore can offer. We feel that this diversity makes our whole county more successful,” he added.

And it is in the foundation of work where Lambert said the spark of opportunity has grown.

“Our work in Robbins has been comprehensive and multi-faceted. We can’t focus on bringing in jobs without infrastructure. We can’t have infrastructure without houses and assets and a good quality of life,” he said. “Instead of focusing on just trying to get jobs, we have to focus on all of it. It is in the web of these successes that created the culture of improvement for our community.”

He said based on that momentum, there have been some small wins the town has built on.

“We are changing the mindsets of people within our community, and it is encouraging to know that international companies are taking notice,” Lambert said.

Pat Corso, executive director of Partners in Progress, credited Lambert for his leadership and noted the county was also very cooperative and helpful with putting together an incentive package.

“This is such a great opportunity for Robbins; it’s been a long drought. There have been so many tough times with things that didn’t go the way they could, for this to pop up as a bright light was timely,” Corso said. “Having David Lambert at the helm, an individual who clearly is of an exceptional caliber for that role and someone that is so passionate about the place, you don’t often get that combination of passion and competence.”

Corso described the deal as one with many details but an easy process in terms of relationships between the stakeholders.

“It is one of those things that happen when you have the right person, the right place, the right time, and then county support,” he said. “It takes leadership on that side, and David provided it.”

Corso said Partners served as the resource team — the facilitator — in the deal, and noted that the groundwork on potential incentives was framed by a template worked out between the town and county.

“That tool was put in place three years ago, and all we had to do was tweak it for this,” Corso said. “Having the template ready to discuss with the company made the job easier. When it comes to where the rubber meets the road, it is having the town and county work together with this company.”

Minhas started with a small furniture unit in 1997, and operates three warehouses in North America. Its operation in Asheboro that will relocate to Robbins employs approximately 120.

Lack of assistance from the state was one of the major hurdles that local leaders faced in attracting Minhas. Economic incentives were restricted to what the town and county could put together. The fine print on the incentives is coming together but will include a clawback provision on funds if benchmarks on job creation are not met.

“Distress does not respect county boundaries,” Corso said. “What this highlights is because of the way our Tier system is, the only way we can get help is if we do it ourselves. The onus is on us to do it ourselves and that is exactly what we just did: we being the collective of the county and town, facilitated by Partners.”

Lambert agreed.

“A lot of grant opportunities are not there because they are moving from a Tier 2 county to a Tier 3 county. And they are coming here despite that,” he said. “This tier system could have ruined the whole thing but I believe that Minhas sensed some of the revitalization happening in Robbins and they wanted to be a part of that.”

Looking at other future possibilities, Lambert cautioned that the challenges remain.

“In many ways this was successful due to effort and collaboration. It could still have gone completely south due to the tier system and I don’t want people to think this is something that can happen all the time,” he said. “With Minhas, it was more a matter of the stars aligning and we were prepared. We had set the stage for success and when the opportunity arose, we took it.”

In a written statement on the town’s Facebook page, several individuals were specifically recognized for their efforts.

“It took a lot of people working together to make this work. We do, however, find it appropriate to highlight the fact that Otis Ritter, the Moore County Commissioner representing northern Moore County, introduced Robbins to this opportunity and has provided steady leadership throughout this long and tedious process. Mr. Ritter had been a long-time advocate for our community and we thank him for his hard work,” the post stated.

In addition, Robbins Mayor English and the town’s commissioners were thanked, along with the county commissioners and County Manager Wayne Vest, Corso and Melanie Thompson with Partners in Progress, and Sandhills Community College.