Manufacturing is not dead in North Carolina

Published February 14, 2013

By Tom Campbell

by Tom Campbell

Contrary to what you may have thought manufacturing is not dead in North Carolina, but it is quite different from our old perceptions of textile and furniture mills and tobacco factories. Some were surprised when The Emerging Issues Forum announced this year’s theme: “Manufacturing Works.” We’ve learned over the past 28 years this group is on the leading edge of public policy issues and this year was no exception. Those attending learned that manufacturing is alive and growing in our state.

North Carolina was hit hard by the recession, losing almost 31 percent of our manufacturing jobs between 1992 and 2010. But during that same time the number of manufacturing establishments increased by 34 percent to some 23,308. We rank fourth in manufacturing production in the U.S., employing some 616,800. But these firms are different. They require less space, are less labor-intensive, employ more technology, automation, newer machineries and smarter logistics.

We heard success stories from entrepreneurs like Gart Davis, co-founder of Spoonflower, a Durham on-demand textile manufacturer who uses computers and professional printers to manufacture small quantity custom textiles. Employing the Internet, they market across the world in English, letting Google translate their web site content into the language of the customer while Pay Pal calculates the appropriate pricing, based on the customer’s currency, and pays Spoonflower in dollars. Davis bragged that they have spent next to nothing on marketing, have few employees and are thriving.

If North Carolina is going to lead in this new age there are challenges that must be addressed. Even today, with a 9.2 percent unemployment rate, jobs are going unfilled because our workers don’t have the skills needed.  Apprenticeship programs need to be started, using a partnership of companies, high schools and community colleges who can train and retrain skilled workers like welders, printers, technicians and others; jobs paying 60,000 dollars or more a year. Our 58 community colleges must be better funded to conduct this training. These new companies are also going to need more streamlined regulations that eliminate unnecessary barriers, excessive permitting and tax policies that encourage them to grow their businesses. And we cannot build tomorrows “makers” without more readily available capital.

Again we hear the call for improving our infrastructure. Better roads and transportation networks are needed to import and export raw materials and finished products. An improvement in high-speed broadband is essential for a business cycle that demands faster communications, greater networking and faster turnarounds. Mostly, we need to “rebrand” manufacturing, to change our thinking from smokestacks, pollution and assembly lines to today’s new manufacturing reality. And we must have  more collaboration between government, business, educators and our citizens.

The benefits are obvious. While fewer will be employed the average wage will be higher. Studies show that 70 percent of research and development and 90 percent of all patents stem from manufacturing. For every dollar spent in the manufacturing sector there is a ripple effect of $1.35 elsewhere in the economy.  It is a positive sign that Governor McCrory has created a new position of Deputy Secretary of Commerce for Manufacturing.

Thanks Emerging Issues Forum. We applaud today’s new “makers” and welcome them to come and grow here.  They will help make us a better state.

February 17, 2013 at 10:41 pm
Michael R. Drummond says:

Dear Tom,

Not only is manufacturing not dead but it is thriving. Our company, Packrite LLC, a packaging manufacture company started in October of 2008 just as the economy was turning down has not only survived but thrived. Packrite is a retail packaging company that was started by myself and a group of people that would not give up when our company Preferred Packaging was shut down by our corporate office laying off 50 people.

Tom the reason for my letter is to let you not only are you right but we are an example of rising from the ashes providing jobs and a tax base for our country.

You are also right about manufacturing in North Carolina. When I did my research on starting this business I found NC was the 5th largest state for Packaging manufacturing.

That lead me to realize we are a great manufacturing state despite losing furniture and textiles. North Carolina manufacturers would need packaging for all the retail products shipped nation wide.

What I did find is a work force woefully undertrained for a company like ours. Packrite is and continues to be the most state of the art packaging company in the world. We invested $10 million in the most advanced equipment in the world most of which of it was the first of its kind in the world. We need help from community colleges ,high schools and trade development companies to expand our work force.

All we have received from our government is pressure to pay taxes with no regard to the jobs we provide for the community. Even when we wanted to install the next $2.5 million dollars piece of equipment High point railroaded us when it came to tax breaks. Although the county can give out millions for the promise of growth by P&G for 200 jobs Packrite has delivered jobs now. We invested despite High Point and Guilford county policies.

Packrite started with 18 people and $0 in sales to now 48 people with a $2 million dollar payrole$13 million in sales and continuing to grow. We projected steady growth and we have exceeded our wildest dreams and we are just getting started.

If I sound a little proud I am we have over come all odds in a down turn economy and created a multi-million dollar company. I believe our newly elected governor has the same vision if so look out world North Carolina is back in manufacturing.

Please call or visit our website to see who we are.


Michael R. Drummond


Packrite LLC

336-884-0793 offices

336-210-2785 cell