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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Lonnie Poole, March 22, 1999. Interview I-0085. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Personal philosophy does not include distribution of wealth

In this excerpt, Poole offers his explanation for North Carolina's exceptional growth in recent years. He thinks that the university system gives the state economic security that permeates private businesses. Research Triangle Park injects innovation into the business climate. And speaking of innovation, Poole believes that wealth should not necessarily be distributed evenly—that he earned his fabulous wealth with risk-taking—but that whatever equity the market was moving towards has been damaged by unions.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Lonnie Poole, March 22, 1999. Interview I-0085. 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: Let me ask you for your reflections on a few issues of the wider North Carolina economy. What do you think are the most significant factors leading to the tremendous, broad economic expansion across say the last generation in North Carolina? The move beyond the traditional say textile, tobacco, and furniture sorts of manufacturing industries to what you see out there today? Why here in North Carolina? Why such success? LP: I know more about this particular area, the Research Triangle Park. One, you have state government and three major universities that are not really knocked around and beat up nearly as bad in economic downturns. So there's more stability to the economy. As a result, as private businesses have moved in, they've enjoyed the benefits of that good stable economic situation. What we have attracted is more in the way of intellectual endeavors. It's been mostly in computers and medical research, which were the first companies to really visit and embrace the Research Triangle concept and to build a closer relationship between the university system and various businesses that moved here. A number of businesses that are involved in just pure research. Then the thing kind of expanded beyond that because as these three universities grew, you had the community college thing and that is a way of taking applied technology and moving it out to folks that can really use it to fix your commode. That's important because you can have all this high tech stuff all you want to, but you also have these practical applications. So the community college system trained the people who did the work. That was very important. Then the greater North Carolina, I read in the paper I think this morning, some of the greatest assets we had was at the greater University of North Carolina, which we've seen Wilmington, Charlotte, East Carolina grow into major universities in their own right and Greensboro. So some of the schools that were nothing back in the days when State, NC State had three or four thousand students. Some of the lesser, they were not even on the map. They weren't even a full dot. They now have three and four thousand students in their student body. The whole state has expanded through education, getting into more intellectual things. That in fact has replaced to a large extent an agricultural society and one that had gone into furniture in the West and textiles in the Piedmont and fishing on the Coast. So we're a more diversified state. We still haven't completely gotten away from the impact of tobacco. Only time will tell how orderly that exit will be. But one thing's for sure; tobacco will place a lesser and lesser role. JM: What's your sense, some people are even in the midst of all of this tremendous growth, some people observers will ask the question, how well and equitably is all this new economic activity being distributed down the socio-economic ranks. What's your sense of that? How well North Carolina's doing, bringing all of its folks along on this ride? Do you have a sense of that, a perspective? LP: I think I'm correct, my dad ran a service station for another individual when I was going to college. He made fifty dollars a week. I made whatever I could picking up part-time work. It was reported in the newspaper not too long ago that my family's worth 138 million. So I have seen at least both ends of this spectrum. If you ask me where it ought to be in between where I came from to where I am at, I can't say I really know the answer. But I can tell you that I have thoroughly enjoyed both ends, but I'm glad that I'm at this end now. Where should it be? I'm not into equitable distribution. I don't think all of what I have done is luck. I took a great deal of risk. I take a great deal of risk every day of my life. It just turns out that I’m pretty well adapted to it, and I've succeeded at it, and this is extremely fertile ground. But you've got to remember that I do a very humble job in a very harsh environment. Picking up garbage is not an easy way to make a living. I've had a lot of friends laugh at me and say, 'Surely with an MBA degree and an engineering degree, you can do something besides pick up garbage.' You know, I took a very simple task and have attempted to do it very well. We have as a company. Does that still exist? I really do believe it can. I think as time goes on, I mentioned facetiously a minute ago is that you've got to move the technology out in to the field. Somebody's got to fix the commodes. Somebody's got to wire the houses and put up the sheet rock. So I see craftsmen making better money than they've ever made, and I see that continuing to increase. Further see it happening voluntarily as a result of employers recognizing the value of people to a much greater extent and not having to put up with the interference of labor unions. I think one of the things that kind of hurt the textile people is that the early inroads were made through textiles by unions. It served I think in hindsight more as a deterrent a way of not distributing the wealth so to speak than it served to redistribute it.