David Congdon, executive chairman of Old Dominion Freight Line, speaks with Durham furniture-maker Jeremy Kamiya during the April High Point Market.
Twice a year, in April and October, more than 75,000 furniture buyers and sellers descend on Guilford County for the High Point Market, creating an annual estimated economic impact of more than $5 billion. When the crowds clear, so does much of the energy surrounding the world’s largest home-furnishings trade show.
Some prominent local business leaders are looking to change that by launching a 100,000-square-foot innovation center for entrepreneurs. HP365, located in a former hosiery mill adjacent to a new minor-league ballpark slated for completion next spring, will include a coworking space, a 3D printing lab and a materials library — a collection of fabric, wood and other samples used in furniture, interiors and fashion design — when it opens in the fall. An existing event space for as many as 350 people that is used for weddings and community gatherings will be available for midweek business events.
“We’re trying to lasso some of the momentum that we have for that two weeks of the year and spread it out over the entire year,” says Tim Branscome, CEO of the HP365 initiative. The Guilford County native has worked for 25 years in the global furniture and design industry, including as a former vice president of International Market Centers, which operates the High Point Market. Returning to the Triad a few years ago, he was inspired by a fledgling effort to revitalize the city’s downtown. He spent four years studying how to fuse that small-town energy with the furniture industry already entrenched in the city.
High Point native David Congdon, executive chairman of Thomasville-based trucking company Old Dominion Freight Line, joined the HP365 effort. Congdon purchased the mill, which was built in 1929 and has been mostly vacant except during the furniture market. Congdon brought in Mark Norcross, founder of Mark David, a high-end furniture company, to chair a nonprofit group that oversees operations and funding for HP365. Rounding out the team is Patrick Chapin, CEO of Business High Point-Chamber of Commerce.
Private donations and a $1.5 million matching grant from the state are funding the group, which was close to meeting its fundraising target in mid-June, Branscome says. HP365 complements a pontential $140 million downtown revitalization effort led by High Point University President Nido Qubein. The ballpark anchors that project, which will include an events center, a hotel and at least 200 apartments.
While furniture-making remains a natural fit for High Point, technology has dramatically changed how furniture is produced, creating new types of job opportunities. There is also a growing demand for handcrafted, customized manufacturing, Branscome says.
“Younger generations don’t want to manage people” and prefer to work in a more collaborative way, he says. He compares the shift to a movement in Brooklyn, N.Y., where many well-educated young people are eschewing corporate careers to “make something with their hands.”
The center could attract other types of artisans as well. “There are several apparel startups [in the state] doing very unique craft,” Branscome says. “We’ve never said this is just a furniture thing.”