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Owen G. Dunn Company: New Bern company with a long reach and long history [Sun Journal, New Bern, N.C.]
[August 15, 2010]

Owen G. Dunn Company: New Bern company with a long reach and long history [Sun Journal, New Bern, N.C.]

(Sun Journal (New Bern, NC) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Aug. 15--If you were born or died, got married or divorced, owned land or real estate, went to court or voted in North Carolina during much of the last century, Owen G. Dunn Company is part of your life.

The footprint of newborns pressed a certificate printed by the New Bern company that also printed the ballots that recorded every vote in the state for 50 years.

But that distinction of dominance and the dedication that has accompanied it now for five generations has become a public relations problem over the last two weeks with stories in the Raleigh News & Observer decrying it as a "near monopoly." Owen Dunn Andrews of New Bern is now president of the company, with brother Andy Andrews of Fayetteville serving as vice president.

"The company was started in 1902 by my great-grandfather, as a printing and office supply store," said Owen Andrews. "As he grew the business and started moving into the state and county supply business, that entailed just about anything for the courthouse and register of deeds: marriage licenses, real estate records, birth and death certificates.

"He sold paper products, binders, anything you would need in those times for a county courthouse to function," he said. "He also had and grew to be a pretty large commercial printing company." At the time of his death in 1940, Owen Guion Dunn was the largest printer in the state, using linotype and hot lead type printed on Heidelberg presses. At the 18,000-square-foot, four-story building at the corner of Craven and Pollock streets, diagonally across from New Bern City Hall, Dunn printed many North Carolina documents under state contract, including the paper ballots.

Dunn also tried his hand at other printing and in June 1907 started the New Bern Sun, the city's first daily afternoon newspaper. It merged seven years later with The New Bern Journal, a 38-year-old city paper, to become the Sun Journal. (The company no longer has a stake in the Sun Journal, which is now owned by Freedom Communications.) Founder Dunn died at 54 and the company passed to his son-in-law, Charles K. McCotter, who was president from 1940 to 1982 and guided the company into the new age of printing as offset presses became more prevalent.

Under McCotter's leadership, the company increased local business and expanded state contract business, continuing ballot printing and delivery.

"We drove the ugly station wagon around to all 100 counties," said Andrews, who worked there in the summers beginning as a teen, mostly in the warehouse driving the fork lift and delivery truck. His brother learned how to set type and focused on the printing side of the business as he continues to do at the company's printing plant in Fayetteville.

Andrews recalls a family story of an election in the late 1950s when a statewide candidate died the weekend before the election.

"We were required to reprint the ballots over the weekend and have them ready for the Tuesday election," Andrews said.

Owen G. Dunn Company got the job done, and Andrews said "on the Monday before the election, the state sent enough Highway Patrol cars to New Bern, lined them up along Craven and Pollock streets waiting, and the highway patrolmen delivered the ballots to the counties." The company was passed to the third generation in 1982, McCotter's son and daughter, Charles K. McCotter Jr. and Mary McCotter Andrews, and Mary's husband, Donald R. Andrews, managed the operation. He led the company through rapid changes in the printing industry, replacing much of the printing prep equipment as computers and publishing software replaced typesetting equipment, the emerging digital age changed camera work, and full-color printing came of age.

His sons were vice presidents, Owen in charge of sales and Andy of production, until Donald Andrews' retirement in 1993, when they took over.

The Andrews brothers continued the company's long love for elections-related printing. Owen G. Dunn Company, with Dunn's Office Solutions and Printelect divisions, is now a company that sells and services all of North Carolina's Electronic Systems & Software voting machines and prints the ballots for 85 of the state's 100 counties.

"It's what we do," Owen Andrews said with obvious pride. "Since my brother and I took over the company we have been pursuing elections business as our primary focus and today it is the majority of our business. We have gone from paper hand-count ballots to the optical scan ballot." "Now we have embraced the Internet and we have customers in all 50 states and a few foreign countries that we sell elections products to. We have printed ballots in 30 of the 50 states -- not all the ballots everywhere in those states -- but they are done right here in North Carolina." In May 2010, the legacy of Owen G. Dunn Company took another forward leap of faith and broke ground for a new 16,000-square-foot corporate headquarters in New Bern at the corner of Trent Road and Morton Road.

The building plans include offices for administration, election coding, voting equipment maintenance and testing and a 10,000-square-foot production and warehouse space. Plans also include retail showrooms for Dunn's Office Solutions and Printelect.

It also welcomed a fifth generation into the firm with Owen's son, Chris Andrews, graduating from NCSU and coming home to join the company. His first job isn't driving the old station wagon, but it will put him on the move, showing the company's new Mobile Voting Place to elections officials from the Carolinas to Louisiana.

Sue Book can be reached at 252-635-5665 or [email protected].

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Copyright (c) 2010, Sun Journal, New Bern, N.C.

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