Goodwill Announces Plans for $20 Million Opportunity Campus

Facility would serve more than 10,000 in its first year, including people like these two men

Robert and Carlos Hunter took Tuesday morning off work. That’s not an easy thing for them to do these days. Their construction business is still relatively young, a little more than three years old, and they're always looking for more things to build.

But the business, it’s theirs. Daily schedules, theirs, too. This independence, they know, didn't happen without the help of others. So when they woke up Tuesday, they each put on a button-down shirt, jacket, and a bow tie, and they drove down to a patch of land off Wilkinson Boulevard to see the unveiling of plans for Goodwill Industries’ Opportunity Campus.

There, they shook hands with other people in suits and dress clothes—heads of business such as Bank of America’s Charles Bowman, heads of nonprofits such as United Way’s Jane McIntyre, and political leaders such as council members LaWana Mayfield and David Howard—introductions that, just four years ago, would’ve been difficult to imagine for the Hunter brothers.

They were there, all the suits, to celebrate a vision. Imagine this 18-acre piece of land just north of the airport becoming home to a 160,000-square-foot campus that will provide job training and placement resources for people needing help. Imagine the child drop-in centers to help mothers get to work. Imagine the new Goodwill retail stores, selling donated goods for cheap to people who need them. Imagine, they said, reversing the trend that now shows more than 160,000 Mecklenburg County residents living in poverty.

These are big goals. And they were there to talk about how to get that done, too. The project will cost $20 million. Goodwill—an organization with a $50 million annual operating budget that’s supported by retail sales—will put up $12 million. They’re asking the community for $8 million, and there was good news on that end, too. They’ve already raised $4.5 million, thanks to big donations from Bank of America ($500,000), the Leon Levine Foundation (a $1.2 million challenge grant), and United Way of Central Carolinas ($531,000).

The ceremony included some of those donors digging in the ceremonial dirt, planting ceremonial seeds, pouring ceremonial water. It was all very ceremonious.

But to the Hunter brothers, it was very real.

In the late 2000s, both lost their jobs. Robert was an electrician with W.B. Moore Company in Charlotte, where he’d worked on projects like the Duke Energy building. And Carlos had been a manager for FileVault.

In late 2009, when they were both out of work, a friend told them about Goodwill’s Construction Training program. They signed up, adding to the influx of people who became “disadvantaged job-seekers” receiving services from Goodwill during the recession. In 2007, Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont served 6,527 clients. In 2009, that number was 17,788.

Every day for 10 weeks, the Hunters drove from their homes in Gaston County to Charlotte to receive the training. They sat side-by-side in the classroom each day and learned skills and earned certifications and wondered what it would be like to not only be employed, but to have their own business.

“Some days, he’d go to sleep and I’d have to tell him to wake up,” Robert says. “And other days I’d go to sleep and he’d have to tell me to wake up. But we weren’t going to quit.”

In October 2010, they finished the program and started Hunter & Hunter General Services LLC.

And then, guess what they found out about running a business: It’s hard. After about a year, they had 20 employees working for them. Now, they’re down to eight. "We've had to downsize some," Carlos says. But there are signs of good things to come. Their company helped build three stores in the new Charlotte Premium Outlets, which opened July 31. Hot Topic, Wet Seal, and Steve Madden are all Hunter & Hunter projects.

So when they were asked to sit on stage and pose as a success story for Goodwill, and to show how this big campus that will cost big money might help regular people, the Hunters gladly came.

As the crowd cleared, though, and the big donors posed for photos on a stage just behind the ceremonial seeds and the ceremonial dirt and the ceremonial shovels, the Hunter brothers were already out in the parking lot, loosening up their bow ties, on the way to their work truck.


Categories: The Buzz, Trade & Tryon