(Earline Donaldson hands Brookwood employee Charles Williams his last paycheck. Williams was present when the first sofa rolled off the line in 1966.)
By SANDRA PRIEST
Special to the Progress
Charles Williams has seen a lot of changes at Brookwood in the last four decades. He began working for the upholstery manufacturer back in 1966 when it opened the doors.
“I helped run the first piece of furniture down the production line,” he remembers proudly. He was still employed at the factory as plant superintendent of the upholstery department, when the last piece of furniture went down the production line. The date was October 31, 2007, and it marked the end of an era not only for Williams, but also for those who have grown up recognizing Brookwood as a landmark in Pontotoc County.
In the 1950s and 60s, the rural communities of Northeast Mississippi were in need of something to help jump-start their economy. That was about the time that businessmen in the area began to realize a need for upholstered furniture manufactured locally at a competitive price. As furniture factories opened in the area, our citizens responded to the opportunity. One of those factories was Brookwood, which was an offshoot of Futorian in New Albany. The hardworking, dependable workforce of Pontotoc began to take pride in producing high quality furniture at Brookwood and other plants in the county.
Their dedication and hard work paid off as the demand for their upholstered furniture began to escalate at a rapid pace. Businessmen scrambled to increase production and open more factories to supply the market. Over the next 40 years, Northeast Mississippi — and Pontotoc in particular — earned quite a name in the furniture manufacturing industry. The citizens of Pontotoc were proud of their craftsmanship and of their reputation.
Plant manager Scott Hooker says, “Brookwood has been such a mainstay in Pontotoc. We have had a unique group of people — good, quality people — and we’ve always had a good reputation in the furniture industry for a good quality product.”
Earline Donaldson tells of generations of families coming to work at Brookwood. “I have been the personnel secretary since September of ’71. We have hired employees, their children and even some grandchildren over the years.”
But today, the winds of change are blowing. As with many furniture companies, sourcing from China has increased dramatically in the last few years. Competition with the Asian market is a reality that is beginning to hit home more and more. After more than four decades as a forerunner in the furniture industry, the Brookwood plant is closing its doors.
Hooker responds to the difficult time for the Brookwood employees with care and concern. “It’s tough on the area for the job loss, but there’s a sentimental issue there too.” He voices his concern as he sees longtime friends and coworkers lose their jobs — as well as facing the fact that he, too, is going to be without a job very soon. “People like Mr. Charles have spent their entire life in the furniture industry. It’s hard to see something like this happen. It’s been a pleasure working with all of them.”
Nancy Duke, a sewing supervisor and Brookwood employee for 36 years, appreciates Hooker’s empathy. “He has been so caring for the people here. We’ve always had such pride in our work, and it’s the saddest thing that our jobs are moving away.”
As Donaldson gives out Brookwood checks to many employees for the very last time, the talk around the personnel office turns to what the future will be like for the former employees of Brookwood. Most are unsure of what lies ahead.
In the increasingly global economy, Northeast Mississippi is looking for ways to diversify. Toyota and the various businesses that will locate in this area to supply them will afford new opportunities. WIN job centers offer information for displaced workers. Also, local community colleges are offering services through the Workforce Invest Act. This gives aid to displaced workers in the form of help with applications, resumes and information on educational opportunities.