Developers eyeing old Sawyers plant in Galax

-A A +A
By April Wright, Reporter

A proposed training facility at the former Sawyers Furniture Co. factory in West Galax could provide opportunities through career-based training, certifications, on-the-job training and job placement.

An integrated manufacturing plant would also create 200 jobs in the first month and generate $8 million per year, said Charles Cecil, who has partnered with C.R. Newman in hopes of starting up the training center/environmentally-friendly manufacturing plant called Deserved Services.

Plans are for the plant to produce biodiesel fuel, patio furniture and motorcycle trailers— all made with recycled products.

Cecil, chief operations officer, and Newman, president/CEO, have worked on the project for six months. They now have the concept, the business plan and the key personnel in place and are in price negotiations with Kyle Realty for the site, located on Nuckolls Curve Road in Galax.

What's needed now is support and a voice from the citizens of Galax and Grayson and Carroll counties — and a $2.5 million grant from local governments — to get it started.

“When 9/11 happened, we all pulled together,” Cecil said. “The recession is also a catastrophe in which we need to pull people together. We're seeing rich people who are now broke and losing their homes, and businesses are shutting down each day.”

Cecil, who has been unemployed for more than a year after recuperating from a motorcycle accident, said coming up with the idea was “just a dream I wanted to share with the people.”

When he came up with the idea, he had three goals in mind: provide training, provide jobs and make people successful in a career they love. Establishing Deserved Services is also an attempt to make the area more appealing to other companies wishing to relocate.

“If people went to college, they've left here,” he said. “If they didn't go to college, they went from high school into one of the factories, which are now leaving us. And some of these people have limited skills.”

The mission at Deserved Services is to provide all citizens the ability to be productive in the community and increase their knowledge, enabling them to excel in today’s ever-changing workforce, he said.

Cecil, who was raised in Fries and now lives in Galax, graduated from Campbell University, was the owner of two restaurants and co-owner of another, and owned a residential contracting business. His background includes industrial training, project management and communications.

His partner's experience includes business and corporate management skills, industrial mentoring and engineering skills and industrial sector expertise. Newman has authored numerous publications and presentations.

Cecil approached Newman, who has worked with the development of the Crossroads Institute, with the idea to provide a training program to those who couldn't afford to attend college or be away from their families — but he wanted to take it one step further.

“I watched Fries become a ghost town, and people had to leave. I don't want to see that happen to Galax,” Cecil said. “We may not be able to give them a $50,000 education, but we'll get them in the right step.”

The community action-based program is designed to help the unemployed regain jobs and to train individuals with limited skills in alternative careers — such as welding, carpentry, masonry and information technology — enabling them to return to work.

Unlike other job training programs, these are paid positions. The students earn while they learn.

During training, each individual will be paid an income of at least $8 an hour, allowing them the capability to provide for themselves and generate revenue for the local economy.

The reason this is possible, Cecil said, is through the facility's integrated production of biodiesel fuel, patio furniture and motorcycle trailers — all made from recycled products. Some individuals who qualify will be automatically hired to work at the plant and others will receive on-the-job training there.

After training is complete, if a position is not available at the plant, Deserved Services will help provide job placement for the graduates.

Through training and manufacturing, 40 to 70 people are expected to be hired every four to eight weeks. Deserved Services will initially create 200 jobs, Cecil said. As soon as operations start in the plant, 50 people will be hired for the production line.

As of March 19, Deserved Services had managed to coordinate the possibility of future marketing and distribution of wooden patio furniture with Vaughan Furniture in Galax.

Cecil said David Vaughan and Mike Stevens of Vaughan Furniture have agreed that this program is needed for the future development of the workforce — and as an asset to attract any future industry looking to locate in the Twin County area.

Also, Linda Bowles, owner of Trailer Sales & Truck Accessories of Galax, has agreed to sell and help distribute the plant's custom line of utility and motorcycle trailers on the East Coast.

Most of the business's profits would come from the production of biodiesel fuel. Deserved Services could generate as much as $10-15 million per year, Cecil estimates, if the furniture line does well.

Plans are for at least five million gallons of biodiesel fuel to be produced at Deserved Services each year.

“After we get the support from the people, then we'll start negotiating funds with the city and the counties,” he said. “I know a lot of good, honest people here that need this.”

To get the business and training programs started, Cecil and Newman plan to request at least $2.5 million from the city and counties, which they want to repay in the future. Cecil said he hasn't spoken with the county governments, but has provided some details to Galax City Manager Keith Holland.

Holland told The Gazette on Monday that he hasn't received enough details from Cecil and Newman to make any comment on the project just yet. However, Cecil and Newman will meet with Holland and Del. Bill Carrico (R-Grayson County) this week to discuss funding and details.

To repay the governments, a portion of the fuel production will be donated for city and county school vehicle consumption — to fuel school buses and service trucks that operate on diesel. “If we can get the money, we will repay the government through biodiesel fuel, with most of that going to the schools,” Cecil said. “And that can be negotiated.

“We want to give people the opportunity to make money, produce viable items to sell and be self-sufficient without having to ask for additional funding.”

In addition to various training programs and a manufacturing plant, Cecil wants to work with the Virginia Employment Commission to help individuals find jobs after their training is complete. Deserved Services also plans to provide GED classes.

“We already have personnel ready. We're not here to compete with other training programs, like Crossroads, or employment programs,” he said. “We're trying to help the area, and this is going to take community action.”

At least five state-certified instructors have agreed to become part of Deserved Services, including instructors from the local school systems, local contractors, welders and masons.

And depending on the program, it would only take six to eight weeks — eight to 10 hours a day — for someone to receive certification in one of these fields, Cecil said.

Right now, the business partners are hoping to land a good deal with Kyle Realty for the former Sawyers Furniture building, which has been empty for years. Cecil and Newman are expecting to spend $750,000 for the purchase and the renovation of the 80,000-square-foot building.

The rest of the $2.5 million would go towards the purchase of equipment for production and training.

“We don't need to create any more empty buildings here, but start filling space and save the farm lands,” he said, of why he chose the Sawyers Furniture building. “Everything we're doing is to help the people of Galax and the Twin Counties. This is my home.”

If the funds are approved by the city and counties, Cecil said the facility could be open in as little as three to six months.

Cecil said if this program successfully comes together, Deserved Services satellite programs may be placed in other struggling areas in southern Virginia, such as Danville and Martinsville.

“Our intentions are to expand our training operation, as well as our revenue-based businesses, over the next five years,” he said.

Job Training Services

Services will include skill assessment, opportunity evaluation, classroom training, constant evaluation, skills certification, resume preparation, interview preparation and job placement.

Certifications would include computer skills, management skills, welding, masonry, automotive repair, hazardous materials, OSHA regulations, first aid and CPR.

Certification programs expected to be added include advanced trim carpentry, CNA certification, rock masonry and advanced computer technician.

For more information or to voice support, contact Cecil and Newman at support@deserved services.info or call Cecil at 233-9151.

Information about Deserved Services is also located at deservedservices.info