For most of the year, the broad main streets of High Point, N.C. are quiet and empty, much like any other faded post-industrial town. But for 10-day long stints twice a year, the empty showrooms fill with the latest upholstery fashions, and home furnishings buyers from around the world pack the town’s few restaurants. That’s the international furniture market: Still a huge economic driver, even after most factories have fled the area.

Back in the late 1990s, that would cause problems for Dwain Waddell, the dropout prevention coordinator at High Point Central High School — students used to skip class to earn a few dollars boxing up purchases and shining shoes. But things have changed.

“They don’t even do that anymore. I don’t think the opportunities are there,” says the bow-tied administrator, whose windowless office walls are covered with his victories — pictures of kids who went on to graduate, rather than fading away. “It seems like because the adults need more work, they’re occupying those jobs. And the furniture stores and factories have kind of gone down some, so there’s probably not as much help needed.”