By TRAVIS HANDY
The old Pulaski Furniture buildings downtown may appear to be empty shells to many who pass by them—ghosts of a thriving industrial era gone by. In reality a number of the buildings and spaces in the complex are being utilized by a number of different industries which could make a mark on the future of economic growth in both the town and county.
The property is owned by John and Jeff Schwarz LLC, of Gibsonville, N.C. and spaces are rented to around a dozen businesses, including KTI Trucking, Cavalier Supply Co., Scott Recycling, Pallet World, Rusty’s Custom Lumber and Landscaping Supplies and a car detailing and automotive repair business called Man Cave, to name just a few. They are successful businesses having a positive impact on the area, with some of them even benefitting from the growth of other industries in the area.
John Schwarz, one of the property owners, recently spoke about the businesses and the good implications they have in the community due to their success and some planned expansion. He also pointed out there is still vacant space which would be beneficial to startups or young companies.
“It’s a real bonus to the town,” said Schwarz. “It has helped employ a lot of new people here.”
Schwarz and his brother have owned the property since 2007 and he said the town and county have both been helpful in making his business a success, in turn giving the Schwarz brothers an opportunity to boost the local economy.
“The town has been very nice to me and so has the county. I have a good rapport and relationship with them, the police department, sheriff’s department,” said Schwarz. “John White in Economic Development has been a real help to us here.”
White had similar comments about Schwarz, calling him a “job creator” and saying that what Schwarz has made out of the once-abandoned buildings is “sort of a business incubator.”
“What John (Schwarz) has done is to take some lemons and really make lemonade,” said Economic Development Director John White. “He has segmented some of the space off, he has created areas that businesses can expand into and he has been really flexible in the way he has tried to utilize the space. That’s what makes it work.”
The property the Schwarz brothers own makes up 1.1 million square feet under roof and has a footprint of somewhere around 20 acres. The buildings are easily recognizable and stand out in the area between Fifth Street, Washington Avenue, Third Street NE and Edgehill Drive, with the most easily recognizable of the structures being “Big Blue.” That building is located on Third Street between Madison and Washington avenues.
Big Blue is used for a number of different purposes and in addition to storage and office space inside the building, there is even an individual building a sailboat in some of the space. Schwarz also says the fifth floor offers a great deal of office space that would ideally accommodate startup businesses looking for a place to house their operations.
Two out of the number of businesses operating there are related to recycling. Scott Recycling recycles electronics, while Bluebird Recycling LLC, or Blue Bird Resins, deals with recycling plastic waste from industries.
“One of the things I like to say about what (Schwarz) is doing is he’s really underscoring Pulaski’s niche in the sustainability area,” said White. “There’s a lot of recycling going on and he’s sort of giving us a new identity as a place to recycle.”
White said Blue Bird has been working with another area business, Phoenix Packaging, recycling some of their waste material to be reused. Phoenix Packaging recently announced plans for expansion which would create hundreds of new jobs in the county.
“If you look at Blue Bird, they’ve got the potential for some fairly significant growth,” said White. “The town and county have been working with them to be able to attract some state funding so they can buy some additional equipment—something called a pelletizer—which will enable them to expand the services they are able to give Phoenix.”
White says with the growth of Phoenix Packaging, here’s another opportunity for a local business to grow and hire more people. In addition to more jobs, there would be new machinery and that expands the tax base.
“It really feeds on itself, which is a really good thing,” said White.
Schwarz indicated, along with Blue Bird, that KTI and Pallet World are getting ready to expand and he would like to see more of the same.
“I’d like to see the whole place full, employing a lot of people and bringing revenue to the town,” said Schwarz. “When we come in and buy properties like this, it takes an effort from the community to step forward and try to make things happen here … whatever we can contribute here enhances the community. If there’s activity going, that’s a bonus.”
“Empty buildings do not create revenue,” said White. “I think the genius of what Mr. Schwarz has done is he’s taken some buildings that if people were just passing by, they would say those are just old, awful looking vestiges of traditional industry, and he has been able to sort of transform those buildings into productive use.”
White said as more businesses expand and hire more employees, those wages will be spent in the community, so he thinks the town and county benefit significantly, as Schwarz “has done an excellent job of being able to take some old antiquated buildings and transform them into very productive spaces.”
“Instead of just being a defunct, empty hulk, now it is beginning to create … a new business emphasis,”said White.