Making a difference: three prominent leaders discuss what makes North Carolina distinctive.

Position:CEO ROUND TABLE - Discussion

High Point University

Aggressive recruitment of new industries and expansions by existing companies are reinvigorating Worth Carolina's economy after a tumultous recession.

Business North Carolina and High Point University invited two experienced industrial recruiters and the CEO of Laboratory Corp. of America Holdings, a Burlington-based company that announced the $6 billion acquisition of Princeton, N.J.-based Covance Inc. in November, to discuss how they responded to important career challenges and to offer suggestions on leadership and creating distinctive personal and corporate brands.


Sharon Allred Decker secretary, N.C. Department of Commerce; former president of Doncaster division of Rutherfordton-based Tanner Cos.

Stanley Davis "Dave" Phillips former U.S. ambassador to Estonia; former secretary, N.C. Department of Commerce

David King chairman and chief executive officer of Burlington-based Laboratory Corp. of America Holdings

High Point University was the host sponsor for the round table, which was moderated by Dr. Nido Qubein, the university's president. The following transcript was edited for brevity and clarity.

Sharon, what has been the biggest surprise in your first two years as commerce secretary?

Decker: How mean politics can be. It just seems to me that jobs should not have a political name upon them. That whether you're Republican or Democrat, whether you're a conservative or a liberal, it really should not matter when it comes to job creation in North Carolina, from my perspective. When the governor asked me to do this, he said, "Now, Sharon, I know you're a registered independent, and I'm really great about that, because what we need is somebody who understands that this really isn't a political issue. This is about getting North Carolina's people back to work and growing this economy again." And I have found that not everybody feels that way about it. And so that has been a surprise. I think I've just been surprised at how extreme it is, and I think that's unfortunate.

How optimistic are you about North Carolina's prospects?

Decker: I can't even express how optimistic I am. This is a can-do kind of state, and we have a long history of being the first in many things. I know that spirit is still here, and that as we begin to recover from a very dark place economically, we will lead that recovery. I'm incredibly optimistic. I'm also optimistic because of the companies that are already invested here. We have been so fortunate in history to build a strong base economy. And although we've seen a tremendous amount of change, particularly in manufacturing, we have been fortunate to diversify enough with companies like LabCorp and others that are fundamentally in businesses that are going to see significant growth.

Ashley Furniture Co. is an example of a manufacturing company that has expanded recently in North Carolina. Tell us about them.

Decker: Well, it's one of the world's largest furniture companies and most successful because of a very innovative business model. They were looking for a place to broaden their base of manufacturing, and they were caught by the history of furniture in North Carolina, about the heritage that is here. We have an amazing legacy in furniture and in textiles. So as both of those industries bring more of that back to the U.S., they're going to come to North Carolina, because they know it's a part of our DNA. What they tell me they found in North Carolina were committed people who loved manufacturing. They also found a great business climate, that it was a place that was competitive to do business from a cost standpoint. And they found a great community here in this region, in the Triad, to embrace them and invite them in. They've announced two expansions since they've been in the state. So they are a great customer for the state of North Carolina and a great employer.

Dave, when you were commerce secretary in 1993 you invited Sen. Jesse Helms and Gov. James Hunt to Manhattan to talk with a company about coming to North Carolina. Tell us about that meeting.

Phillips: I wish I had a recording...

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