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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with John Medlin, May 24, 1999. Interview I-0076. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Wachovia in North Carolina banking history

Medlin offers his thoughts on the broad scope of North Carolina business history and how Wachovia fits in. By the late 1960s, he says, Wachovia had become a truly national bank that focused attention on bringing businesses to markets where it could lend them money. By the 1970s, Medlin was predicting the decline of traditional industries and pushing diversification of the marketplace.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with John Medlin, May 24, 1999. Interview I-0076. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

Think back as best you can on what the general business landscape looked like in North Carolina around this time, mid-seventies when you become bank President. I'd be interested in your sense of who seemed to you at the time really to be pushing the boundaries of the expanding North Carolina economy in those years and your sense of where the transition from the traditional sort of textile, tobacco, furniture landscape over to these coming new industries.
Well, I guess in the early '70s textiles and tobacco and furniture were king. They were the major industries in North Carolina. The textile industry in North Carolina reached a peak of about 320,000 workers in 1973 right before that recession came. The furniture and tobacco and there was a smattering of outside industries coming in. The Governor's all the way back to Sanford that I was aware of had industrial development programs put out across the country to solicit new workers. In fact at Wachovia, Mr. Hanes who was president in the 1930s traveled across the United States and called on the major automobile companies and appliance companies like GE and said, 'Look how about putting some plants in North Carolina so our people will have enough income to buy your products.' Actually it was successful in getting some businesses. He was both out looking for business for the bank and looking for jobs for North Carolina. As a consequence, Wachovia had a national banking department. We had some people who traveled across the country. In the 1960s we built up that department. We gave it some more staff and gave it some new products, cash management services and so forth in the late '60s. So by the 1970s, we were sort of humming on having a national banking effort. So our people traveling across the country had sort of the dual role of attracting business to where we could lend and do the local banking for the subsidiaries or plants they already had here. The banks in the state got into sort of a public/private partnership on that score. It was really, I did not get really deeply involved in that. My predecessor was, was a member of the Economic Development Board under Governor Scott, John Watlington. We had Governor Holshouser there who continued this, but being the first Republican Governor since Reconstruction, he was, and a Democratic legislature, he had a lot of good ideas, but they didn't go as far as if he had been a Democrat. Then Governor Hunt came in in 1977. That was when I first got involved directly. He became Governor about the same time I became Chief Executive Officer. That's when the effort really began. I remember making a speech in 1977 at his first economic development conference and pointing out that we probably had reached the peak of textile jobs and those labor intensive industry jobs were probably going to be heading somewhere else. Textile came away from China to Italy, from Italy to Belgium, from Belgium to London, New England, South and now it's going farther South. They've got 180,000 textile jobs now.
That's some of what happened there. I think the public-private partnership on economic development is still a very vital one. Archie Davis' vision in getting the Research Triangle started in 1959. I remember when I was in loan administration as a credit analyst seeing the loan that we had made to Pinelands, Inc., which was Pineland Incorporated, which was to buy the land, that's now the Research Triangle, all that scrub pine. The bank examiners had criticized it and said that we should write it off. In fact, I think we did have to write some of it off. But the vision to do that and to other banks and insurance companies were brought into it, not just us. But look at what happened starting in the late '60s when IBM came in and Burroughs-Wellcome and Glaxo and many others. That's the shining example of diversification, diversification economically and diversification culturally. Because what those people who came in brought in other ways is just as important as what they brought in jobs.