Highland Craftsmen of Spruce Pine is a pioneer—owners Chis and Marty McCurry revived an ancient North Carolina tradition of using bark shingles for homes, and a new industry was created. The McCurrys idea for incorporating bark shingles occurred to them after watching too many cookie cutter homes go up during the building boom a few years ago. “We wanted to decrease the environmental impact of the building industry and be more in harmony with nature,” said Chris.
Bark is an excellent solution, but no one was harvesting it or manufacturing the shingles. The couple spent five years pounding the pavement, working second jobs to make their dream come true. “After several years we began to thrive, and then the competition appeared,” mused Chris. “The next thing we had to do was prove how we were different, so we did. Our commitment to quality, indigenous materials, and blending with this culture sets us apart.”
Today they are an established business. All their bark (primarily poplar) is sourced from a radius of 100 miles from Spruce Pine, and it’s all waste materials. The company is passionate about the environment and is FSC, PEFC, and SFI green certified. Most of their bark shingles are handmade, and no chemicals or stains are used. In about 80 years the bark returns to nature.
Business at Highland Craftsmen is still solid, in spite of the building industry woes. Chris says numbers of clients are growing, but material volume is down—a result of smaller homes. But the company continues to prosper for several reasons. “We care about each other. Our 12 fulltime employees work closely together and put in a lot of time,” said Chris. “We also have a vision, one that we created, and we’re here to learn and grow and move.”
Chris is very active in the community, serving as chair of the economic revitalization committee and on the Main Street Board, and she appreciates the way the county and other local government works with entrepreneurs. “Entrepreneurs have a culture that makes it hard to interface with government and nonprofits, so I’m thankful our community is willing to embrace our craziness and different pace. We listen to each other.”
The McCurrys have lived in many places, including Charlotte, and traveled to five continents, and they love coming home to Mitchell County. “There’s a protection of the culture here that’s a beautiful thing,” Chris commented. “We don’t appreciate it enough—I see this closeness when I travel to third world countries, and when I come back I see it in our culture clearly.”
Chris tells entrepreneurs considering the area to spend time investing in learning the local culture. She says sharing insights with people avoids miscommunication and helps smooth the way for a thriving business.