Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Kenneth Iverson, June 11, 1999. Interview I-0083. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Business expansion dulls regional differences

In this excerpt, Iverson describes some of the changes he has seen in the South since he and Nucor arrived there in the mid-1960s. He has seen vast industrial development and the emergence of a more educated workforce. These kinds of changes have diminished regional differences in the United States, Iverson believes. He regrets one change—the disappearance of face-to-face deals and the value of promises.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Kenneth Iverson, June 11, 1999. Interview I-0083. 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

JM: It's a regional issue, anyway. Let me take up the matter of the broad economic transformation of the South across the last forty or fifty years -- the post-War South. What factors do you think have been most--. This is an open-ended question with no firm answer, I suppose. What factors are most responsible for the success of a company like Nucor -- a new style of industrial success in the South in the Post-War. KI: The South has really completely changed since I first came here in 1962. A lot of it is due technologies moving into the area and to educational policies that allowed for a more educated workforce and by the companies themselves producing a more educated workforce. That's made tremendous changes in the South. When I came in 1962, there were almost no metal companies here or metal fabrication companies. That has been one of the major areas [of southern development]. I think it's been helped by the fact that it also has a more non-union climate, than a particularly militant union climate. The financial resources here have greatly changed too over that period of time. JM: Did you ever consider Nucor a southern corporation? In other words, [did you consider] the issue of persistent regional distinctiveness or no? KI: No. I don't think we ever thought of Nucor as really [having] a southern heritage or [as a] southern corporation. We have plants all over and there's some interesting stories in that regard. When we built our first plant outside of South Carolina in Nebraska, we took a number of employees from the plant in Florence and moved them to start this new joist plant in Norfolk, Nebraska. They spent one winter in Nebraska, and we probably had twenty percent of them that loaded up in their cars and came back and said, “Can I have my job back?” The regional differences were much greater in 1962 than they are today. Employees today are more ready to move for an opportunity to almost any climate. I've often said that the South--. You have other-directed, inner-directed and traditional-directed people. When I came here in 1962, certainly it was more the traditional-directed individuals. That's gradually disappearing from the area. A good example of that is turning on your parking lights when you drive at night. That was still very prevalent here when I moved down in '62, and it's all gone now. I lived in Scottsdale, Arizona. There was a store --Nordstrom or one of the great department stores --I went one time, and they had at that time a telephone dialing service where you put in cards and then you pushed the button and it dialed it. I was talking to him and he said, “This is really simple to operate. All you do is put the card in and you mash the button.” I said, “Where are you from in South Carolina?” I did it instinctively and he said, “My daddy and I had a lumber store In--.” I've forgotten where it was, but--. JM: “Mash.” Yeah. KI: That's really traditional-directed, and that's been a characteristic of the South, which is both good and bad. I mean, it's good. I'm sorry to see some of it disappear. JM: So less and less generally -- both in the business world and just in the cultural climate of the south -- you see that regional distinctiveness slipping away across these thirty plus years. KI: Yeah. When I came here, you didn't need big contracts. A handshake and an understanding was really--. A man was as good as his word. That I think is disappearing a lot from the South and is becoming, unfortunately, like the rest of the country.