Located midway between Asheville and Charlotte, Hickory is a midsized city with a population of more than 40,000 and the rare claim of spanning three counties, namely Burke, Caldwell, and Catawba. Hickory occupies slightly more than 28 square miles. Since its incorporation in 1870, it has steadily grown thanks to its small-town charm, convenient location near Charlotte and scenic beauty.
In the past, Hickory appealed to master craftspeople who found employment in the area's thriving furniture manufacturing industry. Today, the city is far enough away from major metropolitan centers to avoid traffic congestion and smog, but sufficiently close for residents to find employment.
Readers' Digest has proclaimed Hickory to be the "10th Best Place to Live and Raise a Family." Naturally, the area has seen a steady influx of young families that enjoy the charming single-family homes and quaint apartment buildings. With this increase in younger and wealthier residents, the Hickory business district is also undergoing revitalization, and small businesses and niche stores are cropping up.
Many new lakefront and riverfront new home developments and private communities have been built in recent years.
Hickory is known as the "furniture capital of the world" with more than half of all American-made furniture produced within a 200-mile radius of the city. However, as the recent economic downturn has hit the manufacturing industry especially hard, city officials have aggressively recruited new businesses to move into the area. As a result, business has begun to increase, partly due to a new call center in the southeastern portion of Hickory that employs 450 residents.
But manufacturing still provides the lion's share of the gross annual income, with health care, retail, management, education, and wholesale following close behind.
Southern Business & Development magazine hailed Hickory as the 20th best city to run a company. Companies that have chosen Hickory for their manufacturing and customer service venues are:
Catawba Science Center: Open Tuesday through Sunday, the Catawba Science Center features permanent and traveling exhibits, a planetarium, and hands-on inventor workshop facilities for the kids. The most popular exhibit is the virtual reality theater that places visitors on well-known basketball courts or in the seat of a musical virtuoso.
Hickory Motor Speedway: The Hickory Motor Speedway is known as the birthplace of many popular NASCAR drivers. It has a fixed tourist season, but even during the off-season there are events that will make the hearts of true NASCAR fans beat faster. Car shows and swap meets connect car lovers in the off-season. For more than 50 seasons, car racers have competed while audiences enjoyed classical concession food and youngsters frolicked in a fenced-in playground.
Ivey Arboretum: Visitors to the Ivey Arboretum enjoy more than 400 species of native and foreign trees. Although guided tours are available, visitors enjoy meandering through the arboretum at their own pace. Since all of the flora is clearly labeled, an afternoon spent there is not only enjoyable but educational as well.
Hickory Choral Society: With more than 100 highly trained voices, the Hickory Choral Society recently celebrated 30 years of choral excellence. Specially scheduled performances are held during the holidays, or those interested can check out the yearly events calendar that includes both local and visiting voice talents.
Hickory Museum of Art: The Hickory Museum of Art is primarily dedicated to American art and has been hailed the "Southern Outpost of the National Academy." Paintings, prints, glass art, pottery, and sculptures make up the bulk of permanent exhibits. Traveling collections acquaint visitors with iron sculpting, photography, or private collections of art.
Catawba Valley Furniture Museum: It may be odd to see the Catawba Valley Furniture Museum located on the first floor of the Hickory Furniture Mart, but considering how intertwined woodworking history, furniture manufacture, and retail are, it blends in perfectly. Visitors enjoy exhibits that feature historical furniture, verified as having been among the very first manufactured in the region. A reproduction of a woodworking shop and authentic old woodworking tools are also on hand.
The Annual Catawba Valley Storytelling Festival: Held at Murray's Mill, this annual event is sponsored by the Catawba County Historical Association and has become a favorite with both children and adults.
Dinner, Dance & Romance at the Hickory Museum of Art: The Hickory Jazz Orchestra puts its big band to good use at the annual Dinner, Dance & Romance event on Valentine's Day. It is a formal event that features high-end catering, dancing, and, of course, chocolate desserts.
Hickory is home to Lenoir Rhyne University, which offers an extensive list of undergraduate degrees in the liberal arts fashion. Graduate programs are restricted to Athletic Training, Business Administration, Counseling, Education, and Occupational Therapy. The university is home to about 1,500 students each semester.
Catawba Valley Community College is also located in Hickory. With courses that prepare students for about nearly 100 technical careers, the college is instrumental in providing localized job training to students.
Hickory cheers for the Hickory Crawdads minor league baseball team. Season tickets cost only $50, which makes rooting for the Crawdads an affordable source of family entertainment.
Another set of local teams that stirs up pride for the people of Hickory is the Lenoir Rhyne University's LR Bears. This is an umbrella term encompassing a wide variety of college sports. Many energetic sports enthusiasts attend the games.
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