Corning Optical Communications will be moving its headquarters from Hickory to Charlotte next month, but a company executive says Corning remains committed to its manufacturing operations in Catawba County.

The material sciences company which manufactures fiber optic cable, among other products, announced in 2015 that it would move the headquarters. 

That move is set to begin in early August and should take a few weeks, said Michael Bell, Corning senior vice president and general manager of Optical Connective Solutions.

Bell said roughly 500 jobs from the headquarters will be going to Charlotte, though many employees will continue to live in Hickory and commute to the new building.

The company also added or committed to add jobs in its manufacturing plants in Catawba County that offset the job loss from the headquarters move, Bell said.

At 182,000 square feet, the new headquarters is smaller than the roughly 220,000-square-foot building in Hickory, Bell said. He added the smaller space is more suitable for the company’s needs.

Bell said the company has already listed the Hickory building with the JLL real estate firm. The tax value of the building and land is just under $5.9 million, according to Catawba County GIS.

Bell discussed how the move will affect the number of Corning jobs in Catawba County, why the company decided to move and how Catawba County fits into the company’s future.

The following interview with Bell has been edited for length and clarity:

How many jobs will be staying in Catawba County?

We’re moving the headquarters so all the jobs from the headquarters ... are moving to Charlotte.

We have added in that same vicinity over 500 jobs to Hickory in manufacturing over that same time period.

We operate the Hickory Manufacturing Technologies Center over here off of Exit 126 on Interstate 40.

We operate ... the new Newton factory ...and we’ve announced our expansion into this Trivium business park ... and that’ll be opening later this year.

We’re not changing our manufacturing footprint at all, it’s only the headquarters.

I would say that (the change in the number of jobs has) at least been neutral. There is a slight gain in the total head count.

The other thing I would point to is because we chose to locate where we did … we made sure it was commutable from Hickory and so hundreds of people whose jobs are moving have chosen to stay in the Hickory area.

There will still be a lot of our employees, myself included, that live in the Hickory area and don’t intend on leaving the Hickory area.

Why did the company decide to move the headquarters?

First of all, it was a very difficult decision. We’ve been in the Hickory area for 40 years, so we have really enjoyed and really appreciated the community. But the primary reasons were three:

The first one was a more centralized location for all of our North Carolina-based employment all around the state.

Second, closer access to transportation for the benefit of, we operate a global business group Corning Optical Communications and so it’s a lot more convenient for customers and employees and vendors and the like.

And the third one is access to specialized talent. Charlotte’s a larger market. They have a lot of banking and IT and other types of skills more in the Charlotte area, so we’re going to try and benefit from that.

The company is maintaining a manufacturing presence in Catawba County. What about the county appeals to the company?

It’s a great area for manufacturing employment. I think Catawba County has ... a higher percent of manufacturing jobs than I think any other county in the state.

Employees are committed, skilled. I think that the schools create the right culture, mindset, work ethic and the like.

We also have collaboration with Catawba County Community College with their K-64 initiative so we’re really looking forward to continuing to collaborate with them. That’ll be a great feeder pool for manufacturing and maintenance associates.

We just believe that it’s always been a great place for us. We’ve been very successful here and we intend to continue that into the future.

What is the future of the company and how do Hickory and Catawba County fit into it?

We’re going to continue to grow for many years to come because there is such a strong demand for bandwidth. Bandwidth demand continues to be insatiable in the world.  In fact, in a few years, they’ll be more than three connected devices for every person on earth and a lot of the demand is for video which means you need high bandwidth the whole way out to the end user.

That means there is more of a need for optical fiber deeper and deeper into the network and that means we believe we are going to continue to grow.

And when you talk about something like 5G, as 5G starts to be deployed, I think it’s well-known that that changes cellular network from a fiber-poor to a fiber-rich network meaning you need fiber the whole way to the antenna.

So, as that continues to roll out over the next 10 years or so, we see just continuing strong demand for our products all around the world.

I mean, Catawba County being a place where we have a lot of optical fiber cable manufacturing specifically for the U.S. market and so it’s going to be a big part of our future.

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Kevin Griffin is the City of Hickory reporter at the Hickory Daily Record.

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