American Woodmark breaks ground

Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe, left, jokes as he slings some dirt toward reporters during the groundbreaking ceremony. At right is Cary Dunston, president and CEO of American Woodmark Corp. Inclement weather forced the event under a tent at the building site. Rich Cooley/Daily

WINCHESTER – American Woodmark broke ground Friday on a $30 million project aimed at consolidating its headquarters and local offices.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe joined Frederick County officials and company representatives at the site of Project Unity in the 500 block of Shady Elm Drive – one of several economic development-related events the governor attended during the day. The governor announced in December the company plans to invest $30 million in the project that keeps 377 jobs and creates 55 new positions at the consolidated headquarters.

American Woodmark manufactures and distributes kitchen cabinets and vanities for the remodeling and new-home construction markets.

Frederick County Board of Supervisors Chairman Charles DeHaven Jr. introduced McAuliffe by touting the governor’s record on economic development. McAuliffe recalled announcements in the county that included 84 Lumber, Amazon and Navy Federal Credit Union. The governor lauded the efforts of the community to bring economic development to the county.

McAuliffe warned of potential funding cuts at the federal government level and cited the need for diversified, economic development and growth, noting the announcement made earlier in the day.

Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe, left, offers a quick joke while making a flag presentation to Cary Dunston, right, president and CEO of American Woodmark Corp. in Winchester on Friday afternoon. American Woodmark held a groundbreaking ceremony for their new corporate office on Shady Elm Road. Rich Cooley/Daily

“You can feel the energy and excitement and that’s why this is so important for American Woodmark,” McAuliffe said.

The crowd also heard from company President and Chief Executive Officer Cary Dunston. A “risky” buyout led to the company’s creation in 1980, Dunston said. American Woodmark was a distant second in the cabinet-making industry in terms of size. The company is now second in the country, Dunston said. American Woodmark surpassed the $1 billion mark in January, he noted.

Del. Christopher Collins, R-Winchester, lauded the efforts of Patrick Barker, executive director of the Frederick County Economic Development Authority.

“Creating jobs in Virginia within the commonwealth and here in Frederick County is not a partisan issue, it’s a bipartisan issue and it’s something we all strive for and we work for and fight for,” Collins said.

Dave Stegmaier, director of community outreach for the office of U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-McLean, read the recognition of American Woodmark that will be entered into the congressional record.

The project consolidates the company’s corporate headquarters on Shawnee Drive and three facilities – the national call center, information technology team and product development and logistics operations – into one building, Max Caldas, vice president for marketing strategy at American Woodmark, explained before the groundbreaking. The company would own the consolidated facility and no longer need to rent space for the other operations.

The 55 new positions run the gamut from engineering and marketing to customer care and support services, Caldas said. Salaries will range from $30,000 for call-center workers to six figures for employees in the engineering sector, he added. The company tends to hire people with degrees in engineering or business and marketing, Caldas said. The sales sector opens up more opportunities for people with degrees in other areas such as communications, he added. However, a person with customer service experience might not need a college degree to find employment in that part of the company, he added.

“We’ve had a lot of success bringing people into those roles and the neat thing about it is they experience the customer and they experience the consumer so they get to understand the business very intimately at the grassroots level,” Caldas said.

American Woodmark set up its headquarters in Virginia in 1986. The company operates nine manufacturing facilities and seven service centers across the country.

McAuliffe approved a $550,000 grant from the Commonwealth’s Opportunity Fund to assist the county with the project. The company plans to use the money to prepare the site for construction and to cover other related expenses. The company qualifies for funding through the Virginia Department of Transportation to improve road access to the site. The Virginia Jobs Investment Program will provide funding and services to support the company’s employee-training activities.

The Virginia Economic Development Partnership worked with the county to secure the project. The Frederick County Economic Development Authorities helped the company with some site location and to ensure a financial incentive would allow the firm to stay in Virginia.

“Well, our history is here, right, so you know we’ve been here a long time; we’ve been here from the beginning almost,” Caldas said when asked why the company chose to build in Frederick County. “We’ve got a lot of roots in the area and obviously we did the right thing for our constituents, for our shareholders and checked around to see if there were options but we were pleased that it all worked out, that we had support from the county, support from the state, support from the community to stay here, to continue to thrive here and obviously we were more than willing to do that.”

American Woodmark suffered during the housing-market crash several years ago that affected construction in the region. The company experienced financial losses as a result of the construction slump. The firm bounced back in early 2013 after about three years of profit loss.

As to the health of the company, Caldas referred to its financial status even before the downturn. The company remained well managed during and after the recession, he said, noting that even though the company lost money through some quarters, executives knew the business would come back.

“We knew people were still going to live in houses,” Caldas recalled. “We knew people were still going to remodel their kitchens eventually, right, and so what we didn’t want to do is pull infrastructure out of the market that we were going to want to turn around and serve two, three years down the road.”

The company cut staff during the downturn as it affected the entire housing industry, Caldas said.

“So we made some conscious choices to … tighten the belt, go through some tough quarters during the downturn but we felt very confident coming out of that that it was going to position us in a very good place for this recovery,” he added.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com