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High Point United Way looks beyond furniture

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Julia Vail

HIGH POINT, N.C. — In the “Furniture Capital of the World,” furniture manufacturers have traditionally donated heavily to the annual United Way campaign, which kicks off today.

But because of the economic slump, which has hurt the furniture industry, the campaign faces some difficult hurdles.

“We have a number of employers that have down-sized, some of them significantly,” says Bobby Smith, president of United Way of Greater High Point. “It’s pretty much related to an overall decline for a number of years in furniture manufacturing jobs.”

When asked what the goal is for the upcoming campaign, Smith quips, “survival.”

In July, three Triad furniture manufacturers announced they are closing up shop. The closing of a Drexel Heritage-Henredon upholstery factory in High Point, for example, will cost the city 300 jobs.

Changes like those not only reduce the potential donor pool, but also create more need on the part of social services programs, Smith says.

Calls to United Way shot up by 40 percent in July, Smith says.

“The vast majority is for rent, utilities, clothing, shelter and mortgage assistance,” he says. “The basic primary needs still are not completely being met here.”

The silver lining on the economic cloud is the influx of diverse new jobs that have been coming into High Point, he says.

Last year saw the addition of 3,100 new jobs in areas such as health care, logistics and retail.

For this reason, the main strategy for the 2008 campaign is prospecting, says Coy Williard, volunteer campaign chair and president of Williard-Stewart Co. The campaign kickoff is being held at High Point University in the new baseball field named for Williard’s father.

“We’re going after companies that we haven’t had before,” he says. “That’s going to have to be our savior.”

The success of last year’s campaign, which exceeded its $4.35 million goal by over 6 percent, can be attributed to this strategy, says Smith.

Since 2003, donations have risen by $750,000.

Another big player in fundraising for the High Point United Way is “pacesetter” campaigns, kicked off in the summer by select companies to inspire others to follow suit.

Roughly one-third of total funds are expected to come from pacesetter campaigns this year.

High Point Regional Health System, the city’s largest employer, raised $165,000 in its pacesetter campaign, for example, exceeding the total it raised last year.

United Way of Greater High Point has 29 partner agencies and funds 71 programs each year, with half of the funding going toward youth and family services, Smith says.

The goal for the 2008 campaign was set at $4.66 million, a 3-percent increase over last year’s total, he says.

The city had 71 “Tocqueville” donors last year who contributed $10,000 or more.

Despite the flagging economy, Williard says he feels confident the residents of High Point will do whatever it takes to pitch in.

That includes not only donors, but volunteers as well.

Of 14 campaign cabinet members, “not a single person declined who was asked to join,” Williard says. “Our city is known to step up.”

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