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Building the next generation of North Carolina’s furniture makers

North Carolina has been known as a hub for textiles and furniture for decades, but the industry requires skilled workers trained in the art of furniture production.

And it is an art — everything from imagining the shape of a piece, choosing the fabric, shaping the fabric to match the frame, and putting it all together. As instructor Jorge Roman says, one of the things he loves about working in furniture is the creative side of it.

“When I make furniture, I can create. And whatever is in my mind, if I want to put it there, I can put it there.”

Catawba Valley Community College furniture instructor Jorge Roman

Catawba Valley Community College has had a furniture manufacturing course for decades, but changes in technology and a high demand for trained workers brought local furniture companies and the college together to start the Catawba Valley Furniture Academy in Hickory in 2014.

Now, students of all ages study for up to nine months at the academy and then are guaranteed a job at one of the participating companies. Classes are held in the evening, so students can work during the day and then learn the skills they need to succeed and get ahead. Local furniture manufacturers gain pre-trained employees that can hit the ground running.

“This academy, it has opened a door for so many people,” says instructor Cherl Honeycutt.

Academy Project Manager Cindy Fulbright says they offer students “the ability to do and be whatever it is they choose to be in the furniture industry.” Within the furniture industry, Fulbright says “you have ample opportunity to do whatever you want to do. I think that’s the most unique thing about what we do.”

Michelle Lotker

Michelle Lotker is an award-winning documentary storyteller with a passion for listening to people’s stories, learning new things and discovering the unexpected. Her background combines a stint as an environmental scientist with a Master’s degree in journalism to make her uniquely qualified to tell complex stories in accessible, engaging ways. Lotker’s work has been screened at film festivals including the International Wildlife Film Festival. She’s worked with organizations ranging from UNC-TV to the Sierra Club to local community health centers and national architecture firms to tell stories through a variety of audio and visual formats.