DENNIS SEID: Furniture industry has taken its lumps

DENNIS SEID

DENNIS SEID

From 1990 to 2012, the state lost 56,000 jobs in the furniture industry, a staggering 63 percent decline.

That works out to an average of 2,545 layoffs a year.

But the state isn’t Mississippi – it’s North Carolina.

North Carolina was the preiminent furniture capital of the world at one time, cranking out furniture of all makes, shapes and sizes.

Wood furniture – beds, tables, chairs, dining tables, china cabinets, etc. – was its specialty, but the region made upholstered furniture, too.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s the U.S. furniture industry as a whole began seeing shifts to overseas manufacturing, mainly to China.

Cheap labor drove the exodus, and North Carolina was hit hard.

Because wood furniture can be broken down and reassembled, containers of it could be filled in China, shipped back to the U.S. and sold here for less than making it all here.

Upholstered sofas, love seats and chairs aren’t quite as easily crammed into a container, but Northeast Mississippi wasn’t immune to the pressures of overseas manufacturing.

According to the Franklin Furniture Institute at Mississippi State University, the state has about 18,000 employed by furniture manufacturers and another 21,000 with suppliers.

Manufacturers alone employed as many as 30,000 in their heyday here.

Imported cut-and-sew kits helped eliminate thousands of jobs domestically, but some companies held out and maintained their cutters and sewers. And there have been jobs added in the past few years thanks to cut-and-sew tax-credit legislation that incentivized manufacturers to do just that.

So the Magnolia State has endured its fair share of losses over the years as well, but not quite like North Carolina.

Last week, Heritage Home Group announced it was doing a dreaded “restructuring” of its organization, which included Lane, Broyhill, Thomasville and other famous furniture brands.

For Lane, that means 480 jobs will be eliminated by March 21.

Lane – or Action, as so many still refer to the company – was long a benchmark for the furniture industry in Northeast Mississippi. At its peak, the company employed about 5,000 people.

Before Heritage’s predecessor, Furniture Brands International, declared bankruptcy last September, Lane employed 1,400.

It’s not known how many are left, because privately held Heritage isn’t obligated to share anything except with its venture capital firm.

But there is hope. Other furniture companies are hiring. And this week , two major announcements in Lee County will mean hundreds of new jobs for those willing to work.

Don’t give up. As the saying goes, when one door closes, another opens.

Contact Dennis Seid at (662) 678-1578 or dennis.seid@journalinc.com.