Growth at the Jeld-Wen Inc. manufacturing plant off Liberty Grove-River Road in North Wilkesboro was reviewed by plant manager Jeff Mang during the Wilkes Economic Development Corp.’s annual meeting Thursday afternoon at the Stone Center in North Wilkesboro.

The plant makes all of Jeld-Wen’s fiberglass door “skins” (facings) and most of the doors that have them.

Mang said Charlotte-based Jeld-Wen is the world’s largest door and window manufacturer, with about $5 billion in sales worldwide and about 20,000 employees.

“We’ve invested over $35 million in the North Wilkesboro plant over the last four years, including over $10 million in 2019,” said Mang. The plant’s seventh press began manufacturing door skins in March.

“There is no other plant in the country rated as modern and highly-automated as the one here in North Wilkesboro,” he said, adding that it has 20 robots for manufacturing doors and door skins. Mang said a second highly-automated door line with an eighth press for hot mix, special order doors, will be added in 2020.

The North Wilkesboro operation “is a very strategic plant for Jeld-Wen.” He said fiberglass entry doors produced by the plant are a top product for Jeld-Wen with strong sales growth.

Automation of presses to produce door skins began in 2014, the year after Jeld-Wen reopened the plant after closing it in 2012 amid a weak construction market. A highly-automated door line utilizing eight robots launched at the plant in 2016.

The plant had 80 employees when Mang went to work for Jeld-Wen almost 11 months ago. Much of its workforce consisted of temporary employees paid a little over $10 an hour and it had a high employee turnover rate, he said.

To stabilize the workforce after he started as manager, he said, no more temporary employees were hired and starting pay was raised to over $16. He said Jeld-Wen has an outstanding benefits package.

“We reached out to the community to help us with direct hires. We got a lot of help from the Wilkes Chamber of Commerce, the (Wilkes) Community College, NCWorks, Goodwill and the EDC. As of now, we have over 150 employees. In 11 months, we have added over 70 high tech manufacturing-warehouse jobs. And between the rest of this year and next, we’ll probably add 40 more.”

Mang said the EDC recently helped secure funding for a new Town of North Wilkesboro water tank, which Jeld-Wen needs for increased water pressure for a sprinkler system for an expansion. The town was recently awarded a $580,000 grant by the state and another $420,000 from the Golden LEAF Foundation is expected for the water tank.

In return, the company committed to adding 29 jobs in March. Jeld-Wen had 110 jobs then, so it has added a little over 40 jobs.

“We’ve got a pad leveled off on our 13 acres, so we’re looking forward to breaking ground in the next year or two to expand even more.”

Mang said the EDC helped Jeld-Wen add a 75,000-square-foot warehouse as the company lost space when it added manufacturing equipment.

He said Wilkes EDC President LeeAnn Nixon and Vice President Robin Hamby have helped the plant in numerous ways, including things like helping find someone to clear the snow off the plant’s entrance road.

Nixon said that in addition to Jeld-Wen benefitting from the increased water pressure, the water tank will help Samaritan’s Purse grow in that end of North Wilkesboro. She said it should help other businesses as well as residents down the road.

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