Taking the mountain to the military
When Mark Kearse was a student at Myers Park High School in Charlotte, friends nicknamed him “Goose” because of his long neck. Roughly three decades later, a former classmate helped the co-owner and president of Valle Crucis-based Misty Mountain Threadworks Inc. find his company’s golden egg.
Misty Mountain was started in 1985 in a Blowing Rock garage, where founder Woody Keen stitched together rock-climbing harnesses before selling them to adventure schools such Outward Bound in Asheville. Kearse, who knew Keen from high school, became a co-owner in 1989, and the company moved to Valle Crucis a year later. In addition to harnesses for recreational climbers, gyms and adventure schools, it makes various other climbing gear that is especially popular with serious climbers. A marketing survey found novices were 10 times more likely to purchase a harness from Salt Lake City-based Black Diamond Equipment Ltd., its biggest competitor. However, 60% of Misty Mountain users have four or more harnesses as opposed to 26% of Black Diamond owners.
The recession was killing Misty Mountain when, in the fall of 2008, Kearse attended his 30th high-school reunion, where he ran into Sally McCoy. The CEO of Petaluma, Calif.-based CamelBak Products LLC, best known for its backpack-style water dispenser, had led her company’s move into the military market. Kearse used her contacts to do the same. Misty Mountain doesn’t sell directly to the military but through vendors, one of which collates the harnesses with other items to create kits that contain everything needed on a rescue mission, such as rope and defibrillators. The five service branches employ the harnesses for everything from rappelling out of helicopters to mountain warfare. Navy SEAL Team 6, which carried out the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan, uses Misty Mountain equipment.
The company benefits from the Berry Amendment, which requires the military to purchase textiles made in the U.S. with minor exceptions. Misty Mountain’s products fulfill this requirement, setting it apart from nearly all of its competitors, who have moved production overseas. The new market has given the private company a much-needed jump in revenue — though Kearse won’t disclose it or the exact increase — and kept its 13 employees sewing.
MORGANTON — Melville, N.Y.-based Levington Manufacturing, maker of wiring and lighting products, will expand its plant here, investing $7.3 million and adding 152 to its statewide workforce of 531 within three years. Average annual wage will be $35,488, higher than Burke County’s average of $31,304.
LENOIR — Bakers Waste Equipment will open a plant here, investing $2.9 million and hiring 60 workers within three years. The Valdese-based company makes containers and compactors for the waste, construction and recycling industries. Average annual wage will be $29,157, less than Caldwell County’s average of $29,640.
TRYON — Fendrich Industries will expand operations here, investing $740,000 and adding 23 to its local workforce of 40. The Greenville, S.C.-based company makes printed bandanas and bleaches and dyes yarn for home furnishings. Average annual salary will be $28,739, on par with Polk County’s average of $28,496.
ASHEVILLE — Mission Health is negotiating management agreements with Highlands-based Highlands-Cashiers Hospital and Rutherfordton-based Rutherford Regional Health System. Leaders have approved the affiliations, but details were still being worked out in early October.
ASHEVILLE — Asheville Regional Airport will begin offering nonstop flights to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Nov. 15. Las Vegas-based Allegiant Airlines will operate the flights twice a week on different days.