A leading manufacturer of cycling apparel and accessories will move its operations from the San Francisco bay area to Old Fort, and create 53 new jobs over a three-year period.

Kitsbow, a company in Petaluma, Calif., will relocate to a section of the Parker Hosiery building in Old Fort and invest $890,000 here. Kitsbow makes jerseys, jackets, hoodies, shorts, gloves, socks, ankle and knee warmers, caps and water bottles for cycling enthusiasts.

On Wednesday, Kenny Flowers, the N.C. Department of Commerce’s assistant secretary for rural economic development, came to Old Fort and made the formal announcement at the Parker Hosiery building concerning this new industry for Old Fort.

Kitsbow is a premium clothing brand for cyclists. Using materials from all over the world, Kitsbow makes clothing with innovative materials to create quality, durable gear without sacrificing style. Started in 2012 by mountain bikers, Kitsbow’s team will relocate its West Coast operations to Old Fort with a new manufacturing and distribution center, according to a news release from the N.C. Department of Commerce.

“Kitsbow is an example of a company with a strong commitment to quality products, their customers and the community where it operates,” said Flowers in his announcement. “Kitsbow is innovative, specialty textile company and they are extending the legacy of Parker Hosiery. What used to be a weaving and dyeing operation will now be a high-tech operation with modern machinery for many years to come. Their investment here is evident as their expansion allows them to hire skilled staff to continue innovating and serving their customers with premium cycling apparel.

“Kitsbow’s investment will make a positive impact on the outdoor industry and manufacturing economy of Old Fort. The state of North Carolina is a proud partner of this project and stands ready to support Kitsbow and Old Fort.”

Flowers then presented a gift to David Billstrom, the chief executive officer of Kitsbow. This gift was a fine china plate made in North Carolina featuring the state seal.

Billstrom said his company will operate in 20,000 square feet of the back section of the Parker Hosiery building, which covers 100,000 square feet. Kitsbow will lease two floors of the building and plans to soon start making cycling apparel and accessories in time for the Christmas season.

“We’re thrilled to be here,” he said to the crowd of state and local officials at Parker Hosiery. “Only 3% of the clothes worn in America are made in America. I don’t know of any companies from California that have relocated to Old Fort.”

He added 30% to 40% of all of the clothes made around the world are usually burned or end up in landfills.

“We are committed to making clothes a different way and avoid that whole problem,” he said.

Billstrom said he and his company will partner with McDowell Technical Community College for job training.

“We’re going to need help with training workers,” he said.

Kitsbow will create 53 new jobs over a three-year period and these jobs will pay wages exceeding the average in McDowell. The company will also offer health insurance and other benefits to its employees.

McDowell and North Carolina had to compete against another state to land this company. The N.C. Department of Commerce gave a $200,000 One N.C. grant to help recruit this company.

State Department of Commerce officials said persons who want to apply for a job should go to the company’s website: www.kitsbow.com.

Kitsbow is accepting job applications online at https://www.kitsbow.com/blogs/careers-kitsbow.

Local officials who worked to recruit this company said Kitsbow will be a good match for the town of Old Fort, which is known for its hiking and cycling trails.

“It’s going to fit right in with Old Fort,” said Commission Chairman David Walker.

Mayor Pro Tem Andrew Carlton spoke about the tremendous blow the town suffered when Ethan Allen announced earlier this year that it would shut its Old Fort plant down.

“This is going to be a great shot in the arm,” he said of Kitsbow’s announcement.

Carlton thanked Chuck Abernathy, executive director of the McDowell Economic Development Association, for working on this project.

Carlton then presented Billstrom with a vintage picture of Andrews Geyser and a book written about the geyser by Marion Mayor Steve Little. Joy Shuford with MEDA gave Billstrom a painting of Davidson’s Fort and McDowell Chamber of Commerce Director Steve Bush gave a gift basket of products made in McDowell.

“Kitsbow’s decision to move their manufacturing facility to Old Fort is exciting news for McDowell County,” said Governor Roy Cooper in a news release. “This new plant means growth for the whole area and good jobs for the people who will power production.”

“We considered 11 different possibilities in the eastern U.S. with a track record of textile and apparel manufacturing, and it became obvious that western North Carolina had the perfect blend of talent, daily shipping access, and a spectacular quality of life for our team members,” said Billstrom.

He added he has seen first-hand the resilience and work ethic of the workforce in Appalachia, and that was a major factor in the decision to choose Old Fort in McDowell County for his new manufacturing facility.

“North Carolina has an excellent business climate for the outdoor industry,” said North Carolina Commerce Secretary Anthony M. Copeland in a news release. “Coupled with the largest manufacturing workforce in the Southeastern United States, Kitsbow found a great home in Old Fort.”

The N.C. Department of Commerce and the Economic Development Partnership of N.C. (EDPNC) were instrumental in supporting the company’s decision to operate in McDowell County.

Salaries for the new jobs will vary by position but the average annual wage will be $36,835. The average annual wage in McDowell County is $35,905.

A performance-based grant of $200,000 from the One North Carolina Fund will help facilitate Kitsbow’s new operation in McDowell County. The fund provides financial assistance to local governments to help attract economic investment and to create jobs. Companies receive no money upfront and must meet job creation and capital investment targets to qualify for payment. All One N.C. grants require a matching grant from local governments and any award is contingent upon that condition being met, according to the news release.

Kitsbow has to create the jobs first, and then it will receive the state and local money.

“We have to prove ourselves to you,” said Billstrom to the local and state officials. “This is what a small town is about.”

In addition to North Carolina Department of Commerce and the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, other key partners in the project include the North Carolina Community College System, McDowell County, McDowell Economic Development Association Inc., and the town of Old Fort.

On Monday, Aug. 19, the McDowell County Commissioners held a public hearing about this new industry and to consider economic development incentives. At that time, County Manager Ashley Wooten said he could not name this company, but he added it had committed to hire 53 full-time workers in exchange for an incentive of $159,000.

“This is a competitive project and will be announced by the state if McDowell County is the choice of the company,” said Wooten at that time.

After holding the hearing, the commissioners approved the incentive on Monday, Aug. 19.

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