GREENSBORO, NC – The North Carolina Manufacturing Extension Partnership (NCMEP), a public-private operating alliance working to help manufacturing companies become operationally efficient and well positioned to grow profitably, today announced the winners of its 2016 Manufacturing Leadership Awards at mfgCON in Greensboro, North Carolina. The state awards program recognizes manufacturers for their commitment to the North Carolina manufacturing sector, as proven by outstanding performance.

“NCMEP is thrilled to announce this year’s Manufacturing Leadership Award winners and recognize our outstanding ecosystem of manufacturers across the state. This program recognizes manufacturing organizations that have demonstrated excellence in creating exceptional results in developing markets, continuous improvement, innovative technologies, advanced talent management or sustainable manufacturing,” says Phil Mintz, NCMEP Director and Interim Executive Director of NC State’s Industry Expansion Solutions (IES). “As we continue to grow this program, we look for deployed solutions that solve unique business problems through effective, innovative expansion programs or initiatives.”  

The winners of the 2016 Manufacturing Leadership Awards are:

Overall Excellence:  Sierra Nevada, Mills River, North Carolina

  • Sierra Nevada has brought 400 jobs to the area and has contracted with hundreds of local vendors, haulers, and businesses throughout the brewery’s construction and continuing into daily operations.
  • Sustainability metrics (energy, water, and waste) are tied to each employee’s annual bonus which incentives participation and sustainable behavior and ideas.
  • The company’s comprehensive internal training program requires all employees to engage in a minimum of 24 hours of training during the year. Workshops are regularly offered in partnership with Blue Ridge Community College in subjects such as leadership and effective communication.
  • The pace and intensity of the company’s innovation strategy can be clearly seen in its weekly “new product meeting,” during which the technical brewing teams, production brewing teams and R&D discuss and brainstorm new ideas and review and evaluate progress on projects already underway.

Developing Markets: Associated Hardwoods, Granite Falls, North Carolina

Associated Hardwoods has been a fixture in the wood products industry since its inception. Family-owned and operated, the company has made it a priority to look after the company family, preserving jobs during tough economic times with its re-invention of products and adoption of new technologies, leading to dramatically increased yields and subsequent expansions. The company’s current expansion may create as many as 50 new jobs over the next two years alone, based on the company’s ability to double production through technology advancements.

Continuous Improvement: Flex, Morrisville, North Carolina

Flex is a recognized leader with deep expertise in global manufacturing across virtually every industry. Over the past year, Flex demonstrated annual savings of more than $212k related to continuous improvement activity. Flex had 5 kaizens and 30 small group activities, with a total of 189 participants; the activities spanned the entire organization, from operations and supply chain areas to offices. Just a few of the organization’s major accomplishments over the past year include the introduction of a conveyor to reduce material handling and operator travel distance; automated Storyboard/Production boards to improve the visual factory for the operations area; and web cameras to reduce operator data entry time. Thirteen percent of Flex personnel are now Lean Green Belt certified.

Workforce: Service Thread, Laurinburg, North Carolina

Service Thread partners with Richmond Community College, The University of North Carolina at Pembroke and St. Andrews University to help its associates gain higher Career Readiness Certificates, technical degrees, four-year degrees and master’s degrees. Service Thread’s Employee Education Assistance Program pays 100 percent of books and tuition for qualified associates in fields related to the company’s work; in 2015, Service Thread paid over $100,000 in education expenses. Additionally, the company has developed a wellness initiative with Scotland Occupational Health and the local Family Fitness Center which is now in its tenth year; this program gives all employees access to healthcare, nutrition, and fitness opportunities.

Sustainability: The Bark House at Highland Craftsmen Inc., Spruce Pine, North Carolina

The Bark House at Highland Craftsmen Inc. manufactures natural architectural products.  Company founder Marty McCurry innovated a use for an unused by-product of the logging industry—tree bark.  This company is the original manufacturer of beautiful bark wall coverings for the interiors and exteriors of buildings. Its retail clients include Christian Louboutin, Sherber and Rad, Lululemon, Bass Pro Shops; its products have also been used within Parsons New School for Design, the University of Chicago, national sports arenas, medical centers, and many others. Bark House is the only company to receive 10 “Best for the World” awards from B Corp, a nonprofit third-party certification agency, and a PLATINUM level certification from Cradle to Cradle, which measures the sustainability of a product and its manufacturing processes.   

John E. Skvarla, III, Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Commerce, presented the awards.


About NCMEP: The North Carolina Manufacturing Extension Partnership (NCMEP) provides manufacturing extension services that enhance the productivity, innovative capacity and technological performance of US-based manufacturing firms. It also works to strengthen the global competitiveness of small- and medium-sized manufacturers.

Contact: Teresa Bradford, Director of Marketing,

Media Contact: Beth Gargan, Public Relations Manager,