OPINION: Furniture changes its tune

If at first you don’t succeed … speak softer and carry a cut-and-sew kit.
On Wednesday, the Mississippi Furniture Association will host a luncheon that it hopes will bring together as many furniture industry representatives and state officials as possible.
Two years ago, the MFA held a similar event, attracting hundreds of the same people it wants to meet and greet again.
And a very special guest is Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, who would just love to be “Gov. Bryant” in a couple of years. Bryant will tour some Pontotoc-area furniture plants before attending the luncheon, and there’s no doubt that industry execs will be making a not-so-subtle pitch for attention.
They also had invited Bryant to the area in January, and he visited the Tupelo Furniture Market for the first time.
Welcome to the upholstered furniture capital of the country! Please stay, and give us a hand, they pleaded.
And so here we are again.
Naturally, the MFA will be pushing to get its cut-and-sew incentives bill through again. You’ll remember that industry leaders are asking to get tax credits for companies that keep or add cut-and-sew jobs.
Those are the workers, mostly women, who take the fabric used on sofas, recliners, couches and the like, and sew the patterns for them.
For many furniture manufacturers, it’s far cheaper to buy cut-and-sew kits made overseas.
The MFA said the bill would help keep jobs in the good ol’ USA.
But Gov. Haley Barbour vetoed the bill, saying the already strained state budget couldn’t absorb the potential hit and that the legislation unfairly benefited only one particular industry.
And the Legislature, though passing the bill unanimously, didn’t try to override the veto.
Furniture execs were hopping mad and made it known. They have fumed for months.
But there’s been a slight change of thinking, if not heart.
They realize that holding a grudge and slamming Barbour in public will get them nowhere fast.
They may still be mad, but they’re showing a far more diplomatic face.
“We know we need to help ourselves,” Pruett said. “We’ve been our own worst enemies sometimes.”
So, Pruett and furniture execs are taking a different tack. They’ve tried to “educate” other furniture execs about just what exactly they’re doing.
Barbour noted that not all furniture companies said the legislation would help, so the MFA is making sure it gets the message out to its own industry to present a united front.
Will everyone play along? Hardly. The industry remains highly competitive and not everyone will or want to join the party.
But a kinder, gentler approach might provide better results.

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

Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal

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