Rock Center | January 30, 2012
BRIAN WILLIAMS: Welcome back. Drive around almost any American city and
you'll find them easily: shuttered, vacant factories. The jobs are gone. In some cases, they've gone overseas. And to quote Bruce Springsteen , "They ain't coming back." Or are they? Where manufacturing jobs are concerned, we are just seeing the first glimmers of evidence that some of those jobs may be making a round trip back here to the states . Harry Smith visited a factory owner who sent his company's jobs to China , but then home called him back. And in just the last few days, his products are made in America again.
HARRY SMITH reporting: Lincolnton , North Carolina , is a pretty old town. Still proud from better days when manufacturing put decent paychecks in people's pockets. It seemed like those days were gone for good.
Mr. BRUCE COCHRANE: We made a great product. We were proud of it. And we lost it all.
SMITH: Maybe it can happen again.
Mr. COCHRANE: It will. It will. It'll be better.
SMITH: Out on the edge of Lincolnton , at the old Cochrane Furniture factory, the lights are on again, new machinery is being delivered, and soon local lumber will be milled into fine furniture .
Mr. COCHRANE: I wake up and I think about this and I think about the people that really depend on this happening, and I don't want to let them down.
SMITH: Bruce Cochrane 's family has been in the furniture business here since the Civil War , but Bruce sold the business 20 years ago.
Mr. COCHRANE: This is my grandfather right here.
SMITH: Easier to sell than try to compete with the Chinese, he figured, so he became a go between who connected American furniture companies with Chinese manufacturers.
Mr. COCHRANE: The money was incredibly good and, you know, when you're making money like that, you really -- you really don't see the consequences of some of the things that you're doing and the detriment that -- you know, people losing jobs here, I realized that I was really a big part of the problem.
SMITH: Bruce kept hearing his father's voice.
Mr. COCHRANE: My daddy always said, 'It's not about making furniture . It's about people making furniture .' And I think about that all the time. It's about the people.
SMITH: So Bruce finally decided to listen to that voice and start up the old factory gain. When you first came to your wife, and you said, 'Honey, I'm thinking about opening up the old business again.'
Mr. COCHRANE: She thought I was crazy. At first she thought I was kidding. And then there were the detractors, who -- they're still out there -- say, 'There's no way that you're going to be able to pull this off.'
SMITH: But at the big furniture show in North Carolina last fall, the orders poured in.
Unidentified Man #1: Very Nice.
Unidentified Woman: It's perfect.
SMITH: Buyers were impressed with the samples. Solid wood, made in America , guaranteed for life.
Unidentified Man #2: If you don't remember me, I do remember you.
Mr. COCHRANE: How you doing?
SMITH: For Bruce , this isn't just sentimental. He sees real opportunity. Chinese wages are rising, shipping costs have doubled. China is not the bargain it used to be.
Mr. HAL SIRKIN: We have to recognize one thing, that the average Chinese worker is about a quarter as productive as the average US worker.
SMITH: Hal Sirkin is a senior partner at Boston Consulting . He sees Bruce as part of a dramatic shift. Sirkin says the days of China , so often having a cost advantage over US manufacturers, is about to come to an end.
Mr. SIRKIN: I think we are looking at the tipping point right now. By about 2015 , we'll be at the same level as the cost of the Chinese products.
Mr. SIRKIN: Yes.
SMITH: That's a couple of years from now.
Mr. SIRKIN: It's not that far away. And it's for a bunch of products. It's for things like computers and electronics and televisions. It's for industrial goods like rubber products and machinery.
SMITH: And that could mean millions of new American jobs in the next few years. How big an impact will this have on the economy as these jobs go from China back to the United States ?
Mr. SIRKIN: It'll be a major impact. Our projections are, when you take the manufacturing jobs and then the service jobs that get created alongside those, that we will add two to three million jobs in the US workforce.
SMITH: This is -- this is no small thing. For Bruce , reopening the factory is not a leap of faith but an act of belief in himself and the people who used to work for him.
Ms. KAREN PADGETT: How are you doing today?
SMITH: Karen Padgett worked for Bruce and his father for more than 20 years. She was unemployed and frightened about the future when Bruce called to hire her back.
Ms. PADGETT: When he called me, it was just such a relieved feeling. And I know that when I talk to some of these people, I know that relief feeling is coming for them.
SMITH: And now Karen is doing the hiring.
Ms. PADGETT: My phone started ringing immediately. It's constant. People stop me in the grocery store.
SMITH: Kevin Cook used to work here, too.
Ms. PADGETT: What strengths do you feel that you have?
Mr. KEVIN COOK: I feel that I'm a hard worker, I'm always on time. I'm good with people. And, you know, I'll give you the 100 percent every day that I'm here.
Ms. PADGETT: That's exactly what I want to hear.
SMITH: The effects can be felt across Lincolnton .
Ms. CARRIE ZEITLER: And when I heard about them opening back up, it's like, 'Oh, wow! OK, there's momentum.' It gives you steam. It gives everybody steam.
SMITH: Carrie Zeitler is part owner and manager of Bessie 's Kitchen , where they serve the best fried chicken between Raleigh and Asheville . It could be cars and trucks going in and out of that driveway.
Ms. ZEITLER: And the truck drivers . That'd be great for the truck drivers because we've got a great big parking lot out here.
SMITH: Even the White House has taken notice. That was Bruce , a Republican sitting near Michelle Obama at the State of the Union Address last week. One hundred thirty new jobs may not seem like much.
Mr. COOK: This is it. You're looking at it right here. That is the first piece of furniture that Lincolnton Furniture has actually produced on this line.
SMITH: But Bruce and the folks at Lincolnton Furniture feel like they're on to something.
Mr. COCHRANE: It's pretty emotional. I love you guys just like you're part of my family. I want everybody to sign this piece of furniture today.
SMITH: They're not waiting for the economy to bounce back. They're pitching in to see that it does. Bruce Cochrane is a living parable about people and profits and priorities. It almost seems to me that there's some personal redemption in this for you as well.
Ms. COCHRANE: My father was a -- he was a great man. And I was not of that ilk. I was not as compassionate and I didn't have the empathy and the genuine love for the people that he had. And I got a second chance.
WILLIAMS: Harry Smith here with us in the studio. I think most reasonable people can agree, it would be good for our country to be manufacturers again.
WILLIAMS: And then I heard you saying that he had a rough go getting financing, and you hate to hear that kind of thing.
SMITH: You know, it's so interesting because here's a guy with a great business plan , couldn't have more experience, got the best people in his community together to get this thing started. They had a bunch of cash to start. He needed operating capital. He went up and down the East Coast , went through all the banks in the South , could not find financing until he went to the banker in his hometown.
WILLIAMS: Well, there you go. Thank you very much for bringing us that story. That was fantastic.
SMITH: My pleasure.
WILLIAMS: I really loved it. When