As Market Comes To A Close, Exploring High Point's Place In The Global Economy

As Market Comes To A Close, Exploring High Point's Place In The Global Economy

9:00am Apr 18, 2018
Photo courtesy of the High Point Furniture Market.

This weekend marked the opening of one of North Carolina’s biggest economic events: the High Point Furniture Market.

While the city’s loss of manufacturing over the last few decades has hit its workforce hard, the market itself still brings in products, people and money from around the world.

Jason Margolis, a correspondent with PRI’s The World, has been reporting on High Point’s place in the global economy. Margolis says the city has the tools to survive – and even thrive – in the modern economy.

He spoke with WFDD’s Sean Bueter about what he’s found so far.

Interview Highlights

On what makes High Point different from other cities hit hard by globalization:

Craftsmanship. In many ways it's a similar story. I was just in South Bend, Indiana. They used to make Studebakers back in the 1960s and that wasn't lost to globalization, it was lost to other things. But those Rust Belt communities I've spent a lot of time in, they have lost a lot of business to China and other places in Asia. But what North Carolina has is you still have these incredible craftsmen.

So I'm going out with the guys who are, you know, 50, 60, 70 years old who have these skills that are really unique in the world. There are other people who can do it but you have some of the top furniture makers in the world here. And they're not going to be around forever. So I think North Carolina has to make its push now to hold onto this industry and show people that a chair or a table or a sofa made in North Carolina is something special and it is.

On how national economic policy matters to High Point's success:

There are things that can be done in Washington. It's not important to stop the flow of manufacturing in places like China or Indonesia. One answer is tariffs. Now, most economists say that's not the right way to go. Another way to do it would be to incentivize investing. So, upgrading the factories so that the factories in and around High Point are much better than the factories in China. Now everything is cheaper over in China. But if you're able to get a tax break or you can write off investment you might say "OK this is worth it to invest $5 million in the latest and greatest machinery." So the government can help.

On how High Point reflects the broader North Carolina story:

North Carolina used to be known for three things: tobacco, hogs, and furniture. And hogs are still strong, from my understanding. But I've been in the tobacco fields and that's been hurt. That's been outsourced. And furniture has been outsourced. So I mean really you could substitute the word "tobacco" for "furniture"...

But furniture is something that was made in and around High Point in North Carolina, and every place in America has their specialization that's been lost: Western Pennsylvania lost steel and we have the autos in the Rust Belt. And so this story in North Carolina about furniture really does tell a larger truth, I think.

(Ed.: This transcription has been lightly edited for clarity.)

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