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Leroy Kennedy was named Entrepreneur of the Year

Hickory recognizes 2023 Business. Well Crafted. Award winners

The City of Hickory's 2023 Business. Well Crafted. Award winners were announced during the Hickory City Council meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 5.

Presented by the City’s Business Development Committee (BDC), the Business. Well Crafted. Awards annually honor businesses, organizations, and entrepreneurs that support and affirm the City of Hickory's vision for economic vitality.  

Congratulations to the following 2023 Business. Well Crafted. Awards winners:

Youth (25 years of age and younger)

Jose Saucedo - JS Auto Detailing
As a young Hispanic entrepreneur, Jose Saucedo started JS Auto Detailing LLC to provide superior automotive detailing services to the Hickory and surrounding areas. He is loyal to his customers and continues to work hard despite the challenges faced in the early stages of his startup. Saucedo is a very dedicated and knowledgeable entrepreneur, taking full advantage of resources that are available in the community to help him be successful. He completed the Catawba Valley Community College (CVCC) Everyday Entrepreneurship Venture Fund Program, which provides grants to support CVCC students and recent graduates by helping them start and scale their own businesses. 

With support from CVCC’s Small Business Center, JS Auto Detailing received grant funding to assist with business growth and sustainability. The mobile detailing company has grown into a leading competitor to other automotive detailing companies in just under two years. From 2022 to 2023, the business obtained a substantial number of customers that are serviced weekly. By August 2023, the business had doubled its revenue and increased profitability. The company’s strong business model and unique position in the market help it to be innovative and flexible for clients. The company has grown its social media presence to over 3,000 followers on Instagram and TikTok, which greatly contributes to the successful marketing of its services to new and existing clients. To further his business, Saucedo has also become active in business networking groups like BNI and The Chamber of Catawba County.

Saucedo’s goal is to provide work opportunities as well as financial support to local charities, school boards, and individuals who need help to support their families. He regularly participates in local college and entrepreneurial events. Through his business, Saucedo contributes to the local economy and seeks to have a positive impact in the community.

Individual (Entrepreneur of the Year)

Leroy Kennedy - Thistle Dew Nicely Florals and Gifts
Leroy Kennedy opened Thistle Dew Nicely Florals and Gifts in November 2015. The business started slowly, but has flourished over the past two years. Growing from just one employee (Kennedy) to now employing four people, the business has reaped the benefits of the improved downtown and the recent increase in restaurants, housing, and other businesses that have extended the downtown area.

Thistle Dew Nicely offers gifts and items ranging from the “rustic to the antique” to the “modern and chic.” Most importantly, the shop has become well known for the floral arrangements available for birthdays, funerals, weddings, and other special occasions. As owner and designer of Thistle Dew Nicely, Kennedy puts his love of flowers, family history in the floral business, and dedication to customer satisfaction into his work at the store. He personalizes each floral arrangement based on the wishes of the customer. He also works to ensure that patrons visiting the store - adults, kids, and dogs - all feel welcome and appreciated.

Kennedy loves having a business in downtown Hickory and supports the continued growth and development of downtown and the central business district. Kennedy and Thistle Dew Nicely are members of the Hickory Downtown Development Association (HDDA) and regularly participate in HDDA sponsored events like art crawls, cookie crawls, and holiday events, etc. The store participated in the downtown’s Christmas storefront decoration competition the past two years and won the competition both times. 

Business and/or Organization (10 or fewer employees)

Master Tech Auto Mechanics
Specializing in the repair and maintenance of BMW, Mercedes, Porsche, and Mini Cooper automobiles, Master Tech Auto Mechanics prides itself on excellence, experience, and integrity. When the local automotive dealership serving those brands closed and moved to Charlotte in 2012, Master Tech Auto Mechanics opened to provide dealership quality services without the dealership markup. Since then, the company has grown from two employees generating $90,000 in sales revenue to a shop employing eight people with annual sales of $1 million.

In addition to supporting local car owners with quality service, Master Tech Auto Mechanics is committed to nurturing the automotive technician industry through apprenticeship programs. Master Tech works with three local high schools to offer its facility for their internship program. The business also works with the NCWorks NEXTGEN paid apprenticeship program and has helped with more than a dozen young adults. The business owners stated that the experience has been very rewarding to be able to mentor young people and help them develop skills that will assist them in being successful employees in a professional environment.

Master Tech also supports the community through charitable contributions. Master Tech hosted a car show fundraiser and donated 100% of the proceeds to a local primary school. The company has also purchased snacks for the school, as well as walkie talkies for the staff and more. Master Tech Auto Mechanics is currently raising funds for the school by selling artwork created by the students.

Wildskeins Yarn Company
Founded by Camantha Corsi in 2007 in a 900-square-foot space in a strip mall, Wildskeins is Hickory's premier and most established retail yarn shop selling yarn and accessories for knitters and crocheters in the Hickory area. In 2018, the store moved two blocks north to a 1,500-square-foot house on the corner of N.C. 127. Wildskeins is a female veteran owned business catering to the fiber needs of both the local and worldwide community. Wildskeins improves the Hickory economy by encouraging residents to shop locally for their creative fiber arts needs by offering a welcoming atmosphere for fiber artists to mingle with others. The shop offers a weekly newsletter consisting of 700+ subscribers to keep customers abreast of upcoming events along with social media posts.

Wildskeins was awarded the City of Hickory’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Microenterprise Grant in June 2022. With this grant, the business was able to purchase the Shopify point-of-sale system to improve customer sales. This also allowed Wildskeins to modify its website to begin online sales of its house dyed yarn. The new system allows Wildskeins to monitor individual customer sales, making easier purchases for additional yarns as needed by customer requests. Since the implementation of the Shopify system, Wildskeins has seen a growth of 7% over the past year. As online sales increase, the business plans to hire a part-time employee to maintain the shop, allowing more time to fulfill online orders.

Wildskeins promotes crafting in Hickory and supports the community through various programs and efforts. Each winter, Wildskeins customers donate handmade hats and accessories for the store’s Need A Hat, Take A Hat program to provide warmth for anyone wishing to take a hat from the clothesline hanging outside the store along N.C. 127. In the past three years, this program has donated over 900 handknit and/or crocheted hats to people in need. Wildskeins has provided knitting lessons for Hickory Public Library and participated in the CVQA Quilt Show. The shop promotes Knit In Public Day each June to showcase the craft of knitting to the community. Wildskeins has donated yarn and supplies to Hickory High School’s art classes and local retirement centers. Wildskeins supports TwinKnits in its Hat Not Hate program with yarn donations. Wildskeins offers a 10% discount to anyone involved in a Prayer Shawl ministry and has donated finished blankets to the Pregnancy Care Center for distribution to young mothers. Wildskeins is a member of the National Needle Arts Association (TNNA).

Business and/or Organization (11 to 50 employees)

Hickory Mechanical, Inc.
Hickory Mechanical, Inc. was founded in March 1985 by David Moore, a third-generation mechanical contractor. Hickory Mechanical provides piping, plumbing, and HVAC services to industrial and institutional customers in the Hickory area. The company strives to be a full service provider in all areas of its expertise and to facilitate other work when needed. With many certified medical gas technicians on staff, Hickory Mechanical has completed extensive work at medical facilities. The company has also helped with total building renovations for new companies coming into town. 

Hickory Mechanical values repeat business and looks for customers, not jobs. The company has experienced extensive growth over the last two to three years, growing from about 15 employees to 36, plus an additional 12 subcontracted labor individuals. The company purchased and upgraded a vacant building along the Hickory Trail for its business operations and intends to continue investing in Hickory. Revenue for the business is on pace to nearly triple the average for the previous five years. Hickory Mechanical has also expanded into several new industries that show much promise and are somewhat recession proof.

Beyond its professional services, Hickory Mechanical is committed to furthering the local economy through its involvement in various organizations and nonprofits. Hickory Mechanical is a gold partner of The Chamber of Catawba County and a sustaining member of the Catawba County Economic Development Corporation’s Committee of 100, which supports economic growth and industry recruitment in Catawba County. Hickory Mechanical employees hold leadership positions within the Rotary and Kiwanis clubs, work with and support many arts programs, and volunteer in varying capacities. Hickory Mechanical provides financial support to as many as a dozen or more local nonprofits and holds season tickets to Hickory Crawdads for donation and employee use. Hickory Mechanical regularly participates in Catawba Valley Community College’s Construction Academy and holds a position on the Hickory Public Schools CTE Advisory Committee. The company is also a member of the Lenoir-Rhyne University President Society and Business Council, and holds a position on the College of Business and Economics Advisory Board.

Business and/or Organization (51 or more employees)

Alex Lee, Inc.
Founded in 1931 and headquartered in Hickory, Alex Lee is a family owned and operated company that employs approximately 15,000 people. It serves as the parent company of Merchants Distributors, LLC, which provides full-service, wholesale distribution to supermarkets; Souto Foods, a distributor of authentic Hispanic foods; and Import Mex, a distributor of Mexican and Central American products. Alex Lee is also the parent company of Lowes Foods, which includes nearly 85 full-service grocery stores in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia. In addition, Alex Lee, Inc. is the parent company of W. Lee Flowers & Company, which operates approximately 60 IGA and KJ’s Market grocery stores and provides wholesale distribution to supermarkets. 

Alex Lee is expanding its Hickory distribution center capacity with an addition of 200,000 square feet of automated ambient warehouse space and the conversion of additional space to perishable warehouse space. In 2023, Alex Lee acquired a company in Florida, Import Mex, which expands its distribution area and variety of products. Shared services for the new distribution center are supported out of Hickory, North Carolina. 

Alex Lee and its subsidiaries are heavily involved in the Hickory community. The company supports local nonprofits like the SALT Block Foundation, United Arts Council, Catawba Science Center, Hickory Art Museum, Hickory Choral Society, Western Piedmont Symphony, Second Harvest Foodbank, Hickory Soup Kitchen, Sipes Orchard Home, Carolina Caring, Habitat for Humanity, Exodus, YMCA, and others. Lowes Foods sponsors the City of Hickory’s annual Christmas parade. Alex Lee also supports education foundations and programs like the K-64 initiative, as well as the area’s educational institutions, which include Catawba Valley Community College, Lenoir-Rhyne University, and Appalachian State University in Hickory.

Home Instead
John and Joan Coffey own two Home Instead franchises in North Carolina with their corporate headquarters in the City of Hickory. Home Instead provides home care services, including personal care, respite care, and companionship to older adults within the context of their home. Simply put, Home Instead provides an alternative for older adults to safely live at home in their retirement. The Coffeys purchased the Hickory Home Instead franchise in August 2019, when it employed 38 people. The franchise has since grown its employee base organically by 268% in this business. Over this time, employee wages have increased by 65-85%, depending upon job classification. The acquisition of the Asheville Home Instead franchise further added to the growth of the company, which now employs 196 active employees with 103 living and working within the Hickory Metro. 

Home Instead contributes to the economic development vision for the City of Hickory by quietly investing in the community. Home Instead offices are located in the Fidelity Professional Building at 27 First Avenue NE in downtown Hickory. In 2020, the company partnered with the building owner and completed significant lease hold improvements to modernize the top floor of this office building to include modern offices, an auditorium that will seat 49 people, and a professional conference room with views of downtown. The building owner has continued the revitalization of the Fidelity Professional Building, and it is now a comfortable space for companies desiring modern office space in the central business district of Hickory.

The company and its employees also give back to the community through charitable programs, volunteering, membership in civic and professional organizations, and workforce development initiatives. Home Instead established and continues to conduct the “Be a Santa to a Senior” program, which coordinates the collection and giving of gifts to senior adults at Christmas who would otherwise not receive a gift during the holiday season. Recipients include 150-250 older adults who are part of retirement or skilled nursing homes, and are not Home Instead clients. Each year, 1,500 to 2,500 gifts are collected, purchased, and distributed to these individuals by Home Instead office staff employees.

Martin Starnes & Associates, CPAs, PA
Established in 1987, Martin Starnes & Associates, CPAs, P.A. (MSA) is a professional accounting and consulting firm. With a commitment to providing superior services tailored to each client's needs, the company has established a reputation for excellence in the fields of tax, auditing, and consulting for both business and private sectors. The firm’s mission is not just to deliver top-notch accounting services, but to cultivate long lasting relationships with clients, serving as trusted advisors who help navigate the complexities of financial decision-making. Always placing the needs of clients at the forefront, MSA embodies integrity, professionalism, and a dedication to fostering the financial health and success of those it serves.

MSA plays an instrumental role in promoting economic development. Through its expertise, financial management, and business consulting for numerous local business clients, the firm provides vital services to help clients manage their finances, meet regulatory requirements, and strategize for future growth. By offering these essential services, MSA empowers clients to thrive, create jobs, and contribute to the city’s tax base. MSA has been fortunate to grow 25% over the past two years and looks to grow at least 10% in 2023. In response to this growth, the firm has increased the number of employees, thereby bringing high paying professional jobs to the area. 

MSA innovates to capitalize on new technologies, invests in continuous education and training to ensure that its professionals stay ahead of regulatory changes and industry shifts, and encourages community involvement. Giving back to the community is one of the firm’s top initiatives, and employees love participating. From Chamber membership and activities to serving on local boards, volunteering at local shelters and supporting wellness initiatives, to the firm’s own Volunteer 360 event, MSA is driven to give assistance wherever needed. Martin Starnes is also a founding sponsor and strong supporter of the Hickory Young Professionals Association.


Exodus Homes and Exodus Works
Exodus Homes provides 73 beds of faith based supportive housing for homeless people returning to the community from treatment centers and prison with a comprehensive array of services to help them learn a new way to live and become productive citizens of the community. Exodus serves an average of 160 people a year in the housing program. Exodus Works is a revenue generating vocational training program that provides volunteer work opportunities for Exodus residents in the areas of residential and commercial moving, landscaping, debris removal, general labor, shuttle services, event management, and temporary to permanent labor in the organization’s five corporate partners - Vanguard Furniture, Sherrill Furniture, Design Foundry, Hickory Springs, and The Taiji Group. The goal of Exodus Works is to generate revenue to support Exodus Homes and to help its residents become employed full time in the community in jobs that pay a living wage. The net profit of Exodus Works is the primary source of funding for Exodus Homes.

Exodus Works provides volunteer work opportunities for its residents in a variety of enterprises to create a sustainable employment track that is not dependent on just one or two revenue generating services. Having a variety of training enterprises including temp to perm placements in with its corporate partners gives Exodus residents more options for full time employment. When Exodus residents become employed in the community, they become tax paying citizens, increasing the tax base and the amount of disposable income spent in this community, which helps other businesses prosper and grow. When homeless people learn a new way to live after addiction or incarceration and are employed full time, they become an asset in the community and not a liability. They can pay their child support, probation fees, restitution fees, and reach their goals, such as getting their driver’s license back and purchasing reliable transportation for work after they leave the program. By creating a successful path to employment with a proven track record of getting Exodus residents employed full time in the Hickory community, Exodus Homes and Exodus Works are reducing prison recidivism, reducing neighborhood crime, increasing the tax base, stabilizing the whole community, and improving the quality of life for Exodus participants and their families.

In recent years, Exodus has experienced impressive growth in annual sales and net profit figures. The company is on track to well surpass its sales projections and goals for 2023. In 2022, with the help of the Bolick Foundation and the George Foundation, Exodus purchased a 10,000 lb. dump trailer and an F-250 truck to haul it. This led to a significant increase in the size and frequency of clean out and debris removal jobs. Another factor that has contributed to the continued financial growth of the company is the increased diversification of services offered by Exodus Works. This year, Exodus extended its offerings to include shuttle services in partnership with the Hickory Metro Convention Center, churches, and other businesses. As Exodus Works continues to grow, Exodus Homes plans to expand bed capacity to serve more people. The need for supportive housing for those returning from treatment centers and prison is very urgent and Exodus continues to partner with local businesses, recovery groups, and individuals to help those who need it.

“The Business Development Committee is proud to honor these nine award winners for their commitment and support of the City’s vision for economic vitality,” said Grace McLaurin, chair of the BDC. 

The 2023 Business. Well Crafted. Award winners will be featured in a series of videos shared over the next few months. 

For more information about the Business Development Committee and its Business. Well Crafted. Awards, please contact City of Hickory Business and Community Development Manager Dave Leonetti at 828-261-2227 or



Pictured above are Business and Community Development Manager Dave Leonetti (left) presenting the award for Entrepreneur of the Year to Leroy Kennedy. For more photos of the winners, visit the City of Hickory's Facebook page at