Utica, New York is in Oneida County. Once upon a time it was the Textile Capital of the Country. Today there are no textile plants in Utica, New York. The time came when textiles could no longer be produced profitably in that area.
Henry County, Virginia is just east of the Blue Ridge. Once upon a time was the Tobacco Capital of the Country.
Pre-Civil War Henry County had about 500 tobacco plantations. Factories all over Martinsville cut and pressed this produce into chewing tobacco, making the area the “plug tobacco capital of the world”. Today, I doubt there is more than 500 acres in the entire County of 444 square miles planted in tobacco. All was well with the world until R. J. Reynolds Company began buying and closing tobacco companies in Martinsville and Henry County.
The area’s economy moved somewhat easily from tobacco to furniture, with J.D. and Charles Bassett and Thomas Stanley leading the way. Next came the area’s real and true savior, Hezekiah “Heck” Ford. Mr. Ford, known in local legends as “the one man Chamber of Commerce” moved the Country’s textile industry from Utica, New York to Henry County Virginia.
Our local economy has lately found itself in the position that the people of Utica found themselves in the early part of the previous century. That being the fact that textile products can no longer be profitably produced here in Henry County. Roughly 100 years ago our friends in Utica were faced with the same dilemma we now have to deal with.
We now find ourselves in need of another Heck Ford. Someone who can work the “magic” of getting a new industry established in the area that can take the place of textiles. And no, it must not be another Call Center. It will have to be a real diverse industry that requires the abilities of many people with many skills.
The loss of any individual industry should not be the death knell of an area, if there can be a fallback industry to take it’s place. Just look at Utica, New York as an example.Heck Ford, where are you now that we really need you?