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Jack Lail speaks during a community event celebrating his 90th birthday at the Luck Comer Lail Center in Seagrove.   Photo by Justin Hutton / HM Film Company

‘Never underestimate Jack Lail’

Amy McRary

Special to Randolph Hub


SEAGROVE — Some 240 people attended an April 1 reception and dinner celebrating Randolph County businessman, entrepreneur and community leader Jack C. Lail’s 90th birthday.


The afternoon event was held at the Luck Comer Lail Center, part of the historic Luck’s Beans Cannery on Highway 705 in Seagrove. 


It was fitting location. The longtime business leader bought the former cannery in 2017 and began to renovate the vacant, vandalized building and revitalize its use. 


Lail invested more than $500,000 to help upgrade Luck’s upper building, replacing its roof, heating and air conditioning, sprinklers and lighting. That building is leased to Seagrove-based Sapona Plastics for manufacturing and distribution. Lail was Sapona Plastics’ CEO from 2004 to 2022.


Lail donated Lucks’ lower building to the Town of Seagrove. In addition to a large room designed for community events, that building includes town and police department offices.


The project is the latest example of a business and civic acumen that earned Lail the U.S. Small Business Administration’s 1980 NC Small Business Person of the Year and the Randolph County Chamber of Commerce’s 1989 Citizen of the Year. 


This party was also a community event emphasizing leadership, inclusiveness, teamwork and gratitude. Lail recognized former employees of Mid-State Plastics, the firm he began on a shoestring in 1971. One of those employees, Elizabeth Cox of Asheboro, was given a special recognition. Cox began working at Mid-State as office clerk, eventually becoming vice president of sales. Lail presented her with a silver bowl with an engraving that proclaimed her “a grand champion” in faith, character and courage.


Lail asked administrators from Randolph Community College and Wingate University to speak on advances at their institutions. Lail served on each school’s trustee board. “The people you meet with those institutions will raise you up,” he said. 


While retired RCC President Bob Shackleford and current Wingate President Rhett Brown talked about their schools’ core values and physical growth, they incorporated Lail’s influence in those advancements. 


Lail supported Shackleford in his efforts to include the practice of radical hospitality as an RCC core value and so help change the school’s culture. “You have been a wonderful mentor to me. You have helped me be a better man and a better president,” Shackleford told Lail. 


Brown and Wingate Vice President of Capital Investments Scott Hunsucker classified Lail as the “E.F. Hutton” of Randolph County. They recalled when Lail spoke at Wingate board meetings, other trustees listened — and agreed. Brown said he learned to “never underestimate Jack Lail.”


Noting Lail’s community influence and civic support in many different areas, Brown said Lail also reminded him of the fictional hero George Bailey from the film “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  “Tonight, so many people would not be where they are without Jack Lail,” he said.


Lail was surprised at the event’s conclusion with a certificate from the NC Senate honoring his milestone birthday. Sen. David Craven presented Lail the certificate, calling him a good corporate and community citizen who “treats everyone like family.”


Born in Alexander County, Lail was raised on a dairy farm. He and his wife, Betty, moved to Randolph County in 1959 and he worked for the former General Electric plant in Asheboro. The U.S. Navy veteran earned an economics degree from Guilford College in 1967, driving to and from classes in Greensboro three nights a week for seven years. 


In 1971, Lail began Mid-States Plastics in Seagrove with little more than a business plan, some investments from friends and a determination to succeed. 


“I went to see my friends in Asheboro and asked if they wanted to invest. When they asked ‘Who is going to control this business,’ I said, ‘I am.’ “ But some potential investors wanted company control. Lail politely turned down their investment. 


“Here I was, with a family, starting a business with no money, payrolls to meet,” he recalled. “But I thought it was fun. It all worked out, I guess.”


In 23 years, the full-service injection molder Mid-State grew to supply plastic components for the medical, computer and automotive industries. Its customers included 3-M and IBM. Lail sold the company in 1994 to Anchor Advanced Plastics and retired from there in 1997. 


But he continued to help support and develop the area’s economic, educational and civic opportunities. His work ranged from helping establish the Seagrove branch of the Randolph County library to serving as president of the United Way of Randolph County. He has been a director and president of the Asheboro-Randolph Chamber of Commerce. He helped form the Randolph County Economic Development Corporation and served as its chair in 1987 and 1988. 


Scrapbooks about Mid-State and awards received by Lail were displayed during the party. In addition to the Small Business Person and Citizen of the Year honors, Lail received a Guilford College 1991 Alumni Excellence Award.  In 2005, he received the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, issued by the governor’s office and North Carolina’s highest civilian award.  Wingate presented him a Doctor of Humane Letters in 2012. 


Lail and his wife, the former Betty Edwards of Hickory, have been married 68 years and live in southern Randolph County. They have three sons and four grandchildren; they all attended the birthday celebration.