Cochrane carefully developed a business plan, and by 2011, he was ready — thanks, in part, to financing from a local bank. The president turned out to be a former company worker.
Last spring, Cochrane — who has two partners — walked into the empty 300,000 square-foot factory.
He soon added family touches, among them an oil painting of his father, hung on the lobby wall. With their silver hair and Clark Kent glasses, father and son share an uncanny resemblance. His eyes mist when he mentions him. "I think about how much he would love this," he says.
Starting over, Cochrane also looked to the past, recruiting former company workers.
When he phoned the first two — both weren't working — he heard doubt in their voices.
"Both of them said, 'I don't think I can do that anymore,'" he recalls. "They had lost their confidence. It (joblessness) puts people in such despair. They think there's something wrong with them rather than the circumstances."
Karen Padgett was one of those first calls. She'd worked her way up from the shipping department to human resources manager, spending 35 years with Cochrane and its successor. When the factory closed, Padgett was adrift.
She was in her 50s, jobs were scarce and a lifetime of working with folks who'd become good friends was suddenly gone.
"It was such a loss," she says. "If you have a death in the family, you feel like you just can't pick up and go forward. That's how I felt. ... I knew I needed to work. I knew I was still vital enough to do something, but I didn't know what I would do."
Jerry Cochrane had urged her to return to school, so she enrolled in a nearby college to polish her skills.
She was just starting to scope out job prospects when Cochrane called. She knew immediately she wanted the job, but had a moment of hesitation. "Being out of work strips you of your confidence," she says. "I felt, 'Oh, gosh can I do this?' I just needed somebody to reassure me."
Cochrane described his plans to build American-made furniture. "He said, 'I really believe it's coming back and we can make some money doing this and we'll have a good time, I promise.'"
Padgett is now on the other end of the job search, fielding calls and conducting interviews. She's received about 1,400 applications for what eventually will be about 130 jobs. (Starting salaries range from $9 to $16 an hour.)
One caller had a particularly poignant story: He said he wanted to work for the company because as a boy, he'd lived down the road from the old Cochrane factory. His single mother had struggled to provide for her six kids, he said, and when times got tough, Sonny Cochrane made sure their utility bills were paid.
The man was eventually hired.
About two-thirds of Lincolnton workers have experience in the furniture industry. North Carolina lost nearly 60 percent of its furniture jobs from 1999 to 2010, as the percentage of imported furniture sold in the U.S. doubled.
It has been a slow-motion economic disaster. Padgett says everyone noticed how one factory, then another closed, and yet "it was like we just woke up and it was swept out from under us. It kind of slapped us in the face when it was all gone."
It was so traumatic that when Cochrane asked Pat Hendrick to return as purchasing manager, she was thrilled but had one question: "'Will you be importing anything?' I didn't want to be involved with anything like that," she says, "because that's how I lost my job."
To Hendrick, her job offer was an answered prayer. Literally. Every day while she was unemployed, she says, she'd pray she'd find work. One day, she tried something a little different:
"I said, 'God, I'm tired. You're going to have to drop a job in my lap that you know I can do and have people there that I can get along with and work with. I'm just leaving it in your hands.'"
Cochrane called at 8:59 a.m. the next day.