Some former mill workers OK with biotech, not with Murdock

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Emily Ford
Salisbury Post
KANNAPOLIS ó While many former Fieldcrest Cannon workers have embraced the N.C. Research Campus, some are having a hard time embracing David H. Murdock.
Hundreds of former textile workers attended a reunion Saturday night at Fieldcrest Cannon Stadium.
Ray Simpson, 80, said he’s convinced that Murdock is doing a good thing by building the $1.5 billion biotechnology complex on the ruins of the old textile mill that Murdock once owned.
“As far as liking him, I’m still having trouble with that,” said Simpson, who worked at the mill for 39 years until Murdock laid him off in 1983.
Simpson was 56 years old, and it took him a year to find a new job.
Now, Simpson tells a familiar story.
“I couldn’t get excited about the Research Campus for a long time,” he said. “I kind of resented (Mr. Murdock), and it bothered me.”
While town patriarch Charlie Cannon, who sold the mill to Murdock in 1982, seemed interested in helping people, “Mr. Murdock seemed interested in making money,” Simpson said.
Although Murdock is expected to spend $1 billion of his personal fortune building the Research Campus, which a market study says could create 37,000 jobs in 10 years, some people still won’t say his name.
Friends and former mill coworkers Cheryl Dayvault and Cindy Wilkerson gave a “no comment” on Murdock Saturday night.
But the women, who worked a total of 53 years in the mill including during Murdock’s stint as owner, gave a lukewarm endorsement of the N.C. Research Campus.
“It will be a good thing in the end for the younger generation,” Wilkerson said.
People will need more than a high school education to work there, Dayvault said.
“It’s not for people like us,” she said.
Sandra Sharpe Cody was more enthusiastic about the Research Campus, calling it “just marvelous.” Cody worked in the mill for nine years.
Her father, Carl Sharpe, flipped a coin in 1928 to decide whether to move from Canada to Kannapolis or California. Kannapolis won, and he worked at the Cannon YMCA for years.
Cody said Murdock is a philanthropist for starting the Research Campus, and she hopes the 85-year-old “lives to see it to fruition.”
Bill Buchanan Jr. brought his father to the ballpark Saturday night to view the many photographs and textile artifacts on display near the concession stand.
Buchanan started working in the mill when he was in high school.
“When the mill closed, so many hopes for this town just vanished,” he said. “The Research Campus is hope for the future.”
Murdock “knows how to make a dollar,” Buchanan said. “But I hope he has the concerns of the citizens somewhere on his priority list.”
His father, Bill Buchanan, worked as an assistant vice president at the mill under Murdock.
The biotech project “has a lot of possibilities,” said the elder Buchanan. “I’m looking forward to it.”
The copper-topped David H. Murdock Core Laboratory Building should open this summer, followed by two mammoth buildings for the University of North Carolina System and Murdock’s Dole Food Co.
Eventually, the 350-acre Research Campus could include 50 buildings and 10 university partners.
Kannapolis had a family atmosphere when the Cannons owned the mill, said Simpson, the 80-year-old.
“Now there are a whole bunch of strangers coming in,” he said. “But I guess this will create a new family.”
Contact Emily Ford at eford@salisburypost.com.

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