The death and life of Asheboro, N.C.

Asheboro, N.C., was once considered a dying town, but it fought back and now exists somewhere between recovery and recession

CBS All Access
This video is available on CBS All Access

The following script is from "The Death and Life of Asheboro" which aired on Oct. 28, 2012. Scott Pelley is the correspondent. Robert Anderson and Daniel Ruetenik, producers.

This week before the election there is a lot of arguing about the slowest recovery America has ever seen. We went to North Carolina, a state that went for the president last time but is swinging toward Mitt Romney now. And we found the story of the economy in the death and life of Asheboro.

Asheboro grew up on manufacturing, its factories filled with generations of families who built their town near Purgatory Mountain. But in 2008, Asheboro was named one of America's fastest dying towns. The folks there were never going to quit, but they are still struggling. Why are we stuck somewhere between recession and recovery? No one better to ask than those who live around Purgatory.

In Randolph County, there's no escaping the second election since the great recession. Nonstop, the TV promises a better day or warns of a worse one. Folks around here have seen a lot of both.

Those days start with the signature sound of Asheboro at the Acme-McCrary textile company. It opened the year that some of its workers helped put a Republican in the White House, William Howard Taft. It was 1909. One hundred and three years later, Bill Redding runs the place.

Scott Pelley: At its peak how many employees did you have?

Bill Redding: About 2,000.

Scott Pelley: And today?

Bill Redding: Six hundred.

To see why it's so hard to stitch together a recovery, look at the ladies hosiery business. It's been torn to shreds by cheap imports. Redding has kept the mill going two ways. One, a great idea. He took a chance on a new product: Spanx shapeware which became a sensation. And two, he moved 600 jobs to Honduras.

Scott Pelley: The workers who are less-skilled in Honduras working for you, how much less are they making than the people who work on this floor?

Bill Redding: Considerable.

Scott Pelley: Fifty percent?

Bill Redding: I probably don't wanna answer that.

Scott Pelley: Okay. But it's a considerable difference?

Bill Redding: Oh, yeah.

Scott Pelley: And it's what keeps your business in business?

Bill Redding: That's true.

Scott Pelley: What would've happened if you'd dug in your heels and said, "No, I'm keeping 1,200 jobs in this plant in Randolph County?"

Bill Redding: I think we would probably not exist.

You don't have to look far to see what he means. This mill, in the nearby town of Ramseur, was wiped out, with every job gone, a thousand of them. We couldn't help but notice this in the demolition: "Please have a safe drive home, we want to see you tomorrow." Remember when driving was the biggest threat to workers? When tomorrow didn't come, there was no future for Ramseur's main drag. Shops shuttered right after the plant and Amelia Hill, one of the last holdouts will close her diner this coming Thursday.

Amelia Hill: All the businesses are gone. They've just faded out. Moved. I mean you can't survive. There's no way. There's no surviving.

Scott Pelley: You've been thinking about your retirement, and you've been saving money, I understand for a long time?