Times-News: With eye on workforce, Meadows tours local businesses

f t # e
Washington, August 13, 2018 | comments

With eye on workforce, Meadows tours local businesses
By Derek Lacey 
Times-News Staff Writer 
Posted Aug 13, 2018 at 6:31 PM Updated Aug 13, 2018 at 10:52 PM

From suspensions to give professional mountain bikers the competitive edge to those that help keep Navy SEALS from developing back problems, U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows got a behind-the-scenes look at the Fox Factory Inc.’s East Coast Service Center in Fletcher Monday.

The Underwood Road location, which focuses on servicing mountain biking customers on the East Coast, is now just shy of a year old. It was one of several stops Meadows made in the district Monday.

Director of Sales and Service Steve Watkins showed Meadows around the facility that employs 29 today, with plans to grow that to 50 in the next three to five years.

The company chose the location for a number of factors, Watkins said, from the high quality of life to the cost of living, quality of the workforce, the talent the area attracts in terms of outdoor enthusiasts and the opportunities for outdoor activities, from mountain biking to hiking and kayaking.

On the business side of that equation, he added, the company is now within a one- to two-day window for shipping service orders and products to customers in key East Coast markets, compared with five to seven days shipping when the company was based solely in California.

Meadows said when he’s in the district, he works to visit schools and businesses — with Fox, Linamar and Buchi Kombucha all on the list Monday — to “understand the different dynamics in how we can either stay out of your way or help if we are in your way.”

Probably the biggest thing is creating an environment where businesses can employ more people, and in some cases helping them stay in the area, he said.

Specifically, he put workforce development and training on the top of the list, noting that Fox employs more technical workers, “and so how do we team up with a lot of small businesses to make sure that they have the workforce that’s ready to go to work?”

Calling Fox’s location a great story of a business from California locating on the other coast, Meadows said they picked the Asheville-Hendersonville area out of all the choices they had in the region.

At Fox’s Fletcher service center, they do everything from field calls to repair and ship products, focused on the company’s mountain biking arm. During a presentation at the start of the visit, Watkins noted that the global company does much more than make suspensions for mountain bikes, though. It creates products for snowmobiles, side-by-sides, and even Ford trucks and the 2019 Toyota TRD Offroad product line.

One part of the business that isn’t in the spotlight is military suspension applications. Fox’s Chris Crissman noted that Fox works with the military on applications like drone landing gear and a device with 16 shocks mounted on vehicles to absorb an IED or other explosion.

Working with a retired Navy SEAL who said the biggest problem SEALS face is severe back pain, individual seats in a SEAL boat are now fitted with Fox shocks to mitigate that back damage, he said.

While in the district, Meadows said he also plans to speak with farmers and growers about the Farm Bill, hoping to work on some issues unique to dairy farmers as well as apples and fruit growers.

Veterans seminars

Meadows held several seminars last week in the district to give veterans assistance in accessing services, but was met in Fletcher by a few people opposing what they see as Meadows’ attempts to privatize the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

In Fletcher Monday, Meadows said that each year the seminars attract more vets, and that more than 120 sought assistance this year, the fifth annual round of seminars. The red tape still exists, though.

“I hope that we get to a point where red tape is something that they don’t have to come to a special seminar to be able to get their problems fixed,” he said.

Several people held flags and a sign reading “Rep. Meadows: Don’t turn your back on veterans” on Asheville Highway near Fletcher Town Hall, where the seminar took place last Friday.

Organizers were protesting a bill Meadows co-sponsored, the Veterans Empowerment Act, according to information provided by Bruce Macdonald, saying the bill moves to privatize the VA and quoting opposition to it from Veterans of Foreigh Wars and the American Legion.

“Privatizing the VA has never been on my agenda and I’m 100 percent committed to making sure that we don’t privatize the VA,” Meadows said. He noted several other public statements he has made to that effect and the now-enacted VA Mission Bill he voted for in May, calling it a direct result of the support the bill had among veterans in Western North Carolina.

The Veterans Empowerment Act is not going anywhere, he said.

“We’ve instructed our team to take us off that bill,” Meadows said. “For me, it’s real easy. If the veterans want it, I’m a yes, and if they don’t want it, I’m a no.”

f t # e

Stay Connected

Use the form below to sign up for my newsletter and get the latest news and updates directly to your inbox.