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German manufacturer praises city water

Mills River Councilman Shanon Gonce (right) welcomes Norafin executive Andrew Lang as U.S. sales director Stuart Smith and County Commission Chairman Michael Edney look on. Mills River Councilman Shanon Gonce (right) welcomes Norafin executive Andrew Lang as U.S. sales director Stuart Smith and County Commission Chairman Michael Edney look on.

MILLS RIVER — The quality of Mills River water was a big factor when a German company chose a 15-acre field on School House Road for its first American manufacturing plant, the company’s president said.

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“We have been up and down the East Coast and looked in different places at water quality and that’s the best we found,” Andre Lang, managing partner of Norafin Industries, said before officials shoveled a ceremonial chunk of dirt to mark the construction start.
“It is a big step for us to come to another country,” said Lang. “We think this is a great opportunity. We have good education here, which is important to us.”
He praised the cooperation with Blue Ridge Community College, known for its agility and responsiveness in tailoring training to new factories’ needs.
Norafin makes the fabric for the inner lining of firefighter turnout gear and other specialized woven material. Part of the manufacturing process uses high-pressure water and it’s important to have clean water, Lang said. Water from Hendersonville’s treatment plant met Norafin’s high standards.
AndreLangAndre LangIf the water contains certain minerals or has too high a chlorine content “you’ve got really trouble in your machinery,” he said. “And the other side of it, you are making medical products and things like that. If you use clean water you have clean products. The technology needs clean water and the product needs clean water. We can really deliver a very clean product.”
Norafin is on a fast track to build the plant.
“We need to be operational before this time next year,” said Stuart Smith, who runs Norafin’s U.S. sales operation from an office at Biltmore Town Square. The 75,000-square-foot plant will employ between 45 and 55 people. They’ll be mostly local, the company says, and trained through BRCC.
The company does $10 million worth of sales in the U.S. now but expects to increase that number when it’s making the specialized fabric here. The company typically ships order by sea, which takes eight weeks, Smith said. That will be shortened to a week or less when the Mills River plant opens next spring.
The Partnership for Economic Development and Henderson County are applying for a state Commerce Department infrastructure grant to cover the cost of extending wastewater from Banner Farm Road to the site on School House Road.
Will Buie, chairman of the Partnership for Economic Development, noted that the shuttering of textile mills has been the trend in North Carolina.
“That’s pretty special when we can say we’re at a groundbreaking for a textile facility,” he said.