The burglars also caused several thousand dollars worth of damage to heavy equipment, including large tool chests, five welders and a plasma cutter that arrived at the plant recently and took four months to ship from South Carolina. According to Manahl, sometime between 6:30 p.m. Sunday and 6:30 a.m. Monday, the burglars removed a section of sheet metal along the side of the building to create an access point.
The Sheriff's department was called to the scene, but a representative has so far not been reached for comment.
A plasma cutter that took four months to arrive at the Graham facility from South Carolina had all of the copper wiring cut out of it, as well as consumables such as electrodes removed from it. Valew General Manager Brett Manahl said he expects the machine to be up and running within a week. (Brian Rash)
On March 22, Valew held a job fair at Graham's NCTC campus in which 195 people showed up to find out about possible employment opportunities, but now the burglary has set the plant back one to two months in terms of hiring their first group of welders, Manahl said.
“They've substantially postponed our ability to hire,” Manahl said. “We were planning on hiring at least five welders immediately and then bringing in several more over the next two weeks.”
Due to damage caused to most of its heavy equipment, repairs must be made before Valew can resume testing and training.
“I was incensed. Here's a company that's come to our community that's going to provide jobs, and now they're delayed 30 to 60 days,” Graham's Economic Director Neal Blanton said. “This is not how we want to represent our community, and this has got to stop.”
Though the Graham Police did not have the lead on the case, Chief Tony Widner said that the situation is not a new one.
“We've had similar burglaries here, and this goes back to those precious metals like copper and brass that are in high demand and are easy to trade,” Widner said. “It's not uncommon for burglars to catch a situation where a company is moving in but isn't fully situated yet so there aren't many people constantly at the facility.”
Widner added that over the same weekend, copper wiring was reported stripped from a vacant house, and a local plumber reported theft of some scrap copper and brass.
Manahl said that the burglary in no way casts doubt on Valew's decision to put an operating facility in Graham.
“We're not sure when we can start hiring again, and we'll have a clearer picture once all of the damage is assessed,” he said. “We see this more as just a speed bump.”
The Graham Leader will advance the story as more becomes known.