The CBS series 60 Minutes profiled the fall and rise of manufacturing in North Carolina in a story aired last night.
Their story was called "The death and life of Asheboro, NC." (For readers outside the state, Asheboro is in central North Carolina, about an hour west-southwest of Raleigh.) In the segment, correspondent Scott Pelley visited several sites around Asheboro in Randolph County and chronicled the exodus of manufacturing from Asheboro, and its recent resurgence. And even though he didn't make note of it, he mentioned a couple of our Industrial Extension Service clients in the story.
He visited Acme-McCrary, which placed some of its products on our "Manufacturing Makes It Real" tour in 2010 (and subsequently had them accepted into the NC Museum of History's collection). At Acme-McCrary, Pelley confronted the reality of outsourcing. He learned that often the manufacturer's choice is either to outsource a portion of the work in order to preserve some part in the U.S. or to risk losing the entire business -- it's not a decision that any company makes lightly. (I wish he could have noted that Acme-McCrary, in addition to taking chances on new products, recently won a Wal-Mart sustainability award.)
Pelley also visited Klaussner Furniture, which has had some success in exporting their high-end furniture to the increasingly affluent Chinese because "American-Made" is still a selling point. Klaussner furniture recently joined hundreds of other North Carolina manufacturers in a searchable on-line compendium called, appropriately, Manufactured in NC. MNC gives companies like Klaussner increased visibility on the web, and has become the initial entry point for many companies that previously had no web presence at all.
One of the most delightful parts of the 60 Minutes piece was the story of Miss Jenny's Pickles, started by two friends who lost their financial industry jobs and turned to food manufacturing -- including, according to their web site, attending and acing "pickle school" at NC State. They also entered the export market, which can be difficult but critical to long-term success, and Miss Jenny's Pickles now has customers in several Chinese cities. (Commercial break: We have lots of resources and programs to help small to mid-sized manufacturers break into the export market, and the North Carolina Department of Commerce announced today that it received a new grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration to help companies start exporting.)
As the 60 Minutes story points out, everything is not sunshine and roses -- the problems faced by manufacturing didn't appear overnight, and it will take time to remedy them. And it's an unfortunate fact that boom-and-bust cycles have affected cities, towns, and people everywhere, throughout history, but if we can do anything to help companies and communities make it through the tough times, we will.
I hope Acme-McCrary, Klaussner Furniture, and Miss Jenny's Pickles will join the Manufacturing Makes It Real Network, and give other MMIRN members the chance to learn from their experience. (The next MMIR Network event is November 15th at Baldor in Shelby, and there's still time to RSVP!). We want more people to realize how vital manufacturing is to all of us, and want to share success stories with as many people who will listen, because together we can all help strengthen manufacturing across the state -- and beyond.
Addendum: On this page, Asheboro Leaders and NC Secretary of Commerce Keith Crisco react to the 60 Minutes episode.