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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Sherwood Smith, March 23, 1999. Interview I-0079. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Absence of unions and other factors make for business-friendly environment

In this excerpt Smith describes his attitudes toward unions, which he sees as unnecessary if employers treat employees well. The absence of unions in North Carolina, paired with an eager workforce and a moderate cost of living, lured businesses and spurred growth starting in the mid-1960s.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Sherwood Smith, March 23, 1999. Interview I-0079. 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

SS: For all the companies that were then engaged in building nuclear power plants, circumstances changed and during the middle 1980s the policy of the national government -- we had obviously changed presidents -- became more aggressive in fighting inflation. As inflation subsided, interest rates began to drop, economic growth began to pick up again, and our company proceeded to complete our fourth nuclear power plant. Other companies -- Duke Power Company, Virginia -- completed those that they had near completion, under construction. Meanwhile, the economy of the state mirrored the national economy with the growth of manufacturing of non-traditional goods such as textiles, tobacco, and furniture. Our labor climate has always been viewed as a very positive labor climate for economic development. We happen to be a state that has a right to work law. We are a state where union representation is a very small percentage of the total workforce. If there is a general business view on that subject in the state -- and you would have it expressed in many different ways, by many different people -- I think it is that the workforce in North Carolina in manufacturing has largely come from the farm with a very strong work ethic and also [with a] sort of a feeling of independence on behalf of the workers and independence on behalf of the management. If management is responsive and reasonable to the needs of the employees, then there should not be the need for a third party -- the unions -- to be the intermediary between the employees and the management. Certainly in the earlier days of the textile strikes and some of the other labor problems, there’s no question in my mind, but that the ability of the workers to organize certainly was a very important and valuable function. Perhaps the ability of the workers to organize as a potential discipline on management encouraged management to be more progressive, but that's just a general thought. You get more information on that from the textile people and the furniture people who really were on the front line with unions. But in any event, there was a reputation of North Carolina as a state where workers worked hard and were anxious to work. The state had put in a technical and community college training program in 1953. Before that we had a few industrial training centers that started in the late '40s. The Community and Technical College Act of 1953, which provided a foundation for education and training of non-four-year college attendees throughout the state with particular emphasis on what we now call workforce training, had a lot to do with the favorable climate for economic development. The cost of living here was moderate. Wage rates were moderate. There were a lot of conditions that made it desirable for industries, as they expanded nationally, to look at North Carolina. Many of them did. First the smaller electronic companies and then the larger companies such as IBM, which came into the Research Triangle Park first in 1965, then expanded in many other locations throughout the state. All of this was going on at a time when the electric utility industry was still faced with growth. The percentage growth was not quite as rapid as it had been in the 1960s, but there was a need to move forward -- but at a slower pace -- to build more nuclear and coal firing power plants. I had an opportunity, just because I'm here in Raleigh I suppose, to work closely with the Research Triangle Park development. I imagine I've been on the board out there for twenty or more years. I serve as vice chairman of the board and chairman of an organization called Triangle University Center for Advanced Study. We're the landlords for a hundred and twenty acres in the middle of the Park. We have the National Humanities Center, the Biotech Center, and the Microelectronics Center. I was the first president of the Microelectronics Center. So more by virtue of the fact that I lived here and the business that I was in, rather than any skills that I had, enabled me to be involved as a close observer and many times as a participant in the recruitment of new industry in North Carolina. It's been a very remarkable and rewarding phenomena to have happened here. We lead the state--. In the states, usually we're in the top three or four every year of new and expanded jobs. Those jobs are, for the most part, higher paying jobs. The higher paying jobs require higher levels of skills, which means you have the reason to support stronger training programs. This filters down to even in your public school system. [One example is] the TechPrep programs that we have in some places. It [the Park] certainly supports and strengthens the university system. Now I've given you a long answer to a question that probably could've been answered in fewer words. But as we sit here in a conversational way, that's my quick overview, as I see it.