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« The Carolina Way | Main | Moderating forces »

Feb 05, 2013


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Andrew Brod

It should be but it isn't.

It would be if we had a manufacturing culture with a tradition of making innovative high-margin products. But we don't. Even in the mostly defunct apparel-manufacturing sector, we specialized in lower-end products like socks and t-shirts. And now, our relatively low rate of educational attainment makes it hard to create a high-margin culture out of whole cloth (pun intended).

Of course this doesn't mean we shouldn't start moving in that direction. We have to; we have no choice. But the fundamental challenge we face is that in spite of some great examples of creative, high-margin manufacturing in this area, it's most definitely not in our sweet spot. Not yet, at least.

Eric Robert

It all starts with a clear and concise Vision...only then can the Brand be articulated and a plan developed . The Vision will describe the change the Brand would like to see in the market place. The Vision can align all of us towards a common goal regardless of age, political affiliations, ethnicity or affluence. The Vision will serve as a common goal against which we can benchmark progress or lack thereof. A Vision is what Greensboro needs first!

Ed Cone

HondaJet and Precision Fabrics are examples of success in this area.

Not saying you are wrong, AB (although GSO proper was better known for textiles than apparel, and White Oak still runs today because it makes high-margin specialty cloth), just that there is a direction we can go that builds on our past and our reputation, however imperfect those things might be.

Eric Robert

Our textile heritage is often overlooked in favor of what has worked for other part of the country. While I am not sure White Oak's margins are as high as they once were, its product relevance and renown is still very much global and highly respected. We also happen to have one of the largest apparel manufacturer in the world headquartered right here...VF, Precision fabrics, BGF, ITG and many others only reinforce our position as a textile authority...we are very good at this, we have individuals here that are some of the best in the world... why are we trying to build/ attract an automotive plant ?...simply because other have done it?

Andrew Brod

Strictly speaking, VF doesn't actually make much any more. It is primarily an owner, developer, and manager of apparel brands, and in fact its example essentially proves my point. For the most part, VF moved out of the low-margin activity of making the stuff and into the high-margin activity of managing the stuff.

Now, shifting gears (I'm full of puns today!), why are we trying to attract an automotive plant?

Because it'd be huge!

An automobile plant would be a tremendous asset to the local economy, and by no means would it be an injection of an alien activity into a textile/apparel body. We have a pretty strong transportation/logistics cluster in this region, including parts manufacturers. Now, nothing here implies that we should overpay for such a plant; the question of incentives is a separate issue. But an auto plant would be great.


This recent article from Fortune, about Zara's Amancio Ortega can serve as an example.

Eric Robert

Technically speaking, you are correct...but $9 billion in sales acccount for a lot of manufacturing by someone , somewhere...all controlled by our good neighbors. The point i am trying to make is that we have great expertise and great purchasing power in textile/apparel...i would like to see how we can incentivize textile/apparel related companies to come and complement our current offering. It may require a little more creative thinking but it can be done...the apparel product cycle is now reduced to 8 weeks from design to on-floor so what if we could design, cut, saw, launder and finish all within the area, all while taking advantage of the great logistic qualities you mentioned, we could more than compete with the automotive potential...no?

Ed Cone

VF is a good example, Eric, of the design/management component of modern manufacturing.

I'm always surprised the huge company gets so little attention around here.

Eric Robert

Vf actually embodies the potential success that can be achieved when associated with a clear Vision. A while back it decided to "own" certain categories and it went after achieving that specific objective. All corporate efforts were then directed and measured in relation to the adopted Vision, therefore removing all subjectivity and personal agendas. If Greensboro could articulate a Vision, then it would transcend leaderships , and "flavors du jour"...who knows, it may even make us aspirational on our own terms.


I'm not sure just one vision is needed - I think we need more visions backed up by talented, thoughtful leaders to move them forward. I don't see a vision for an automobile manufacturer, or a center for the textile industry, or a focus on the arts as visions exclusive to the other. Proportionally, we spend way too much on chasing firms to relocate here. (See Rick Perry's recent attempt to recruit CA companies and the potential return on investment numbers.) Without the furniture industry, we would have fewer design and ad/marketing firms. This is true of Portland and it's relationship to Adidas, Puma and Nike and probably true of Greenville, SC and BMW, or the Bay Area and Silicon Valley. Creatives locate where there is an industry to support it.

Ted Oliver

You may be aware of the book, The New Geography of Jobs by Dr. Enrico Moretti, an Economist at The University of California - Berkeley. If you are not, he has a lot of very useful insights that apply to cities that want to keep growing and vibrant.
Dr. Moretti says, "Most sectors of our economy have a multiplier effect, but the innovation sector has the largest multiplier: about three times larger than that of traditional manufacturing. An important implication for policy makers is that the best ways for a city to generate jobs for less skilled workers is to attract innovative companies that hire highly skilled ones."
"Take Apple for example,. It employs 13,000 workers in Cupertino, but it generates almost 70,000 additional service jobs in the region."
Q. What is the New Geography of Jobs?
A. If you look at the economic map of America today, you do not see just one country. You see three increasingly different countries. On one hand there are cities like Seattle, San Francisco,Raleigh-Durham or Austin, with a strong innovation-based economy and workers who are among the most creative and best paid on the planet. At the other extreme are former manufacturing centers like Detroit, Flint or Cleveland, where jobs and salaries are plummeting. In the middle, there is the rest of America, apparently undecided on which direction to take.
The difference between the three Americas was small in the 1980’s and has been growing ever since. My book explores this new geography of jobs, and especially its root causes and what it means for our country.
Q. Which cities will prosper in the future and which will decline?
A. Sixty years ago the rich areas in America were manufacturing centers, with an abundance of physical capital. Today human capital is the best predictor of a city success. A large number of highly educated workers in a city is associated with more creativity and a better ability to invent new ways of working. Economic research shows that cities with many college-educated workers tend to develop an innovation-based economy; and this brings even more well-educated workers there, further reinforcing their edge. It is a tipping point dynamic. By contrast, cities with few well-educated workers miss-out on the growth of high tech, and this further reduces their appeal. These self-reinforcing dynamics magnify the differences between winners and losers in an innovation-driven economy.
More information about the book as well as the full interview with Dr. Moretti can be seen at Amazonhttp://www.amazon.com/The-Geography-Jobs-Enrico-Moretti/dp/0547750110/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top

Eric Robert

Brian, if Greensboro is indeed a brand, then we need a vision and the vision must be singular. The brand's incarnations and mission can stretch expectations and outlines various aspirational goals, but again, in my opinion ,there can only be one vision (whatever that ends up being) . I would like to see a vision rooted in our heritage while looking into our common future. Nanotechnology and micro-encapsulation are all related to the textile/apparel, the colleges provides the innovative human capital that Ted is referring to...so, i could see us (with Vf and ITG's help) becoming the "silicon valley" of textile/apparel innovation. We cannot be everything to everybody (as we are trying to be now) because we end up with a diluted version of what vanilla could be with no real perspective or point of view which is exactly why we have to pay companies to like us.


I don't think Greensboro is a brand and I think a singular vision on manufacturing is what got us to this place. A brand doesn't create jobs and doesn't improve the quality of life for the people that live here. It would be fun, if we could get a nice, cool brand that "stuck" and sort of made sense, but that will happen organically. "Keep Austin Weird" wasn't thought of by economic development folks. Actually, I can't think of a brand of any city. Some cities have nicknames, though. I appreciate your approach and your desire for vision and it is an approach that can be very useful, but I don't think the culture of Greensboro or the Triad will support that, so I think it is more useful to look at other ways of accomplish our goals.

Fred Gregory

Brod as Milton Berle

Eric Robert

Greensboro is absolutely a brand...not a clearly communicated one, but a brand regardless. A vision for the city has nothing to do with manufacturing, but certainly can assist in determining what we want to support and what we don't. It will, guide us to become what we want to become...You are correct that Greensboro's culture does not support it...this is why we keep on revisiting the same things over and over...development, noise, vibrancy, incentives, non profits,blight, arts, race etc...we have nothing to align us towards a clear and common objective. We are each other's villains. Branding alone will not save Greensboro, first we have to have something of value that others would want to interact with, and buy into (and we do have plenty of value) . Branding will make it easier to communicate and articulate to outsiders and has actually done very well for many cities as it is more than a tag line , a gimmick or a logo. Branding is a proven set of activities all destined to differentiate and communicate clearly and consistently.

Ed Cone

"I can't think of a brand of any city."

Yeah, Silicon Valley and Research Triangle have no brand equity. Neither do less formalized but no less relevant brands like brainy Boston or biz-friendly Greenville/Spartanburg.

Seriously, though, as discussed here from time to time, you don't just declare a brand, you build one. And that's what we should be doing. There are elements is this very post and thread: economic trends, broadband strategy, leadership companies, assets in place, etc.

Fred, snagging an automaker has been an econ dev holy grail here and elsewhere for decades.

Eric Robert

To build a brand properly , one has to adhere to some very basic principles and follow an effective proven process....and it start with....Vision!

Lucky us, we don't have to rely on image...We are very fortunate in the sense that we have something of value to communicate, we have real points of difference, equities and real assets( tangible and intangible) that differentiate us from others. So the first step should be to stop trying to emulate Greenville (among others) and distill our own soul/essence and associated values . It is not often that resident/consumers get a chance to communicate their own Brand.


Did Silicon Valley and RTP worry about whether they had a brand or not before they achieved it? A brand is a byproduct, not an ingredient when you are talking about local or regional economic development. I think you have more accurately described RTP's, SV's, Boston's and Greenville's reputation, and not brand. Either way, I think worrying about it is just dithering. Show me where "a cohesive brand or plan" was a necessary precursor to economic growth or revitalization? Yes, let's pursue manufacturing, the creative economy, logistics/supply chain/distribution, textiles, aerospace, automobiles, etc and let's plan on ways to grow those sectors so we don't waste resources and opportunities. Do it all, just don't think some "brand" is the missing piece to get us to reach our goals.

And if the desire for a brand is to capture relocating companies...forget it. So you don't have to click on the HuffPost link above, here is the gist:

"In the first seven years of Perry’s administration, Texas got an annual gain of 0.03 percent in jobs gained from relocation. Even if you double that rate, it would still be an extremely small impact. So basically the report says that Texas officials should spend 99.97 percent of their time and money on everything else but chasing other state’s jobs."

Ed Cone

Right, Brian, we all agree that you build a brand, you don't just choose a slogan. You don't even need a slogan. We're talking about economic development, not soda pop.

As for conscious choice of vision and brand, some places (including RTP) have been very purposeful in that direction.

Getting companies to relocate may be a poor strategic focus, but landing a whale (e.g., BMW, Mercedes in SC and AL) seems to work pretty damn well.

"...as if the blown engines of textile manufacturing, insurance, tobacco, and furniture would be replaced by a tribe of beatniks planning interpretive dance programs over fair-trade coffee in a charming fauxhemian downtown."


Fred Gregory

The Greensboro car. Whose idea was it ?

Ed Cone

Fred, AB's comment reiterates the commonplace idea that our local economic development would be goosed by landing an auto plant, as done in SC and AL.

That's not the same thing as the idea you keep linking to, which is, essentially, hey, let's start a car company.

So, yes, pride of ownership for the latter idea belongs elsewhere, but that's not the idea under discussion here.

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