By Robbie Ward/MSU University Relations
STARKVILLE – About 75 people from furniture companies, suppliers and industry trade organizations from Mississippi and seven other states met on Wednesday to learn about challenges facing them.
The crowd of furniture manufacturing representatives sat down at Mississippi State University’s Franklin Furniture Institute to learn about best practices for the industry. The university-based institute works to sustain jobs and enhance competitiveness of the furniture and home furnishings industry in the state and region.
Foreign competition, increased government regulation and other industry challenges have caused many furniture plants to close in Mississippi and other states. From 2005 to 2010, furniture-manufacturing jobs in the state fell by about 35 percent to 18,023, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Statistics. Similarly, furniture suppliers also saw a decrease in jobs during the same period, to 23,496, or about 29 percent.
“Everyone’s got the same problems,” said Bill Martin, director of the Franklin Furniture Institute. “We want to educate those in the industry about issues important to them.”
Along with learning about challenges at the second annual furniture manufacturing summit at MSU, attendees heard success stories of different companies, more about improving environmental policy while cutting costs and how university services can benefit furniture-manufacturing companies. They also learned there is a hope for an economic upswing.
Jerry Epperson, a financial analyst who has focused on the furniture industry for more than 30 years, told the group recent economic problems have similarities to “extreme trauma” felt in the country during World War II. He also suggested that the nation could experience a period of strong growth similar to what followed the war.
“I think there’s parallels to what we’ve just gone through,” Epperson said. “This year will be perceived as the first year when Americans felt like they were no longer in a recession.”
At the conference, Martin said furniture manufacturing facilities’ expanding in the state is a positive sign for people looking for work and the hope for an improved regional economy.
For example, Southern Motion, a company based in Pontotoc, opened a new facility in Baldwyn earlier this year, creating about 150 jobs.
“We’ve had companies expand,” Martin said. “If they keep investing in human capital, technology and servicing their customers, everything else will take care of itself.”