HENDERSON, N.C. — For decades, North Carolina's economy depended on textiles, furniture and agriculture. These days, all three industries are struggling.
A local businessman looked outside the box to find a model for success in a struggling town.
M.R. Williams Wholesale Food Distributors is one of the top distributors in the country.
Twenty-eight years ago, the company had 22 employees. Now, the company has nearly 200 employees and $132 million in sales.
"My philosophy has been customer service because they are the folks who pay our bills," company owner M.R. Williams said.
Williams had the customer in mind when his company designed software that allows customers to manage their inventory using a Palm Pilot.
"Since we introduced this, our sales went up 34 percent in the first year and 17 percent the second year during an economic downturn," he said.
While Williams flourished, Henderson's corporate giants in textiles, tobacco, and retailing collapsed.
The business owner says he sees opportunity and hopes Henderson and other small towns will learn they cannot have all their eggs in a couple of big economic baskets and survive.
"Obviously, we need to look at diversification," he said. "We can no longer be reliant on tobacco, no longer be reliant on textiles. We have to look at other industries."
Williams says that philosophy could help deliver better times to Henderson.