By Dennis Seid
TUPELO – For some laid-off and soon-to-be laid off employees of Lane Furniture Industries, shock and disappointment have given way to some hope.
At least for a few.
Last month, Lane’s parent company stunned the employees at Lane’s Saltillo plant, announcing it would be closed by March 21. Heritage Home Group said “business circumstances” forced it to make the decision.
The decision meant 480 people would be laid off. Most have been let go already, and many were at a job fair at Itawamba Community College’s Belden campus Wednesday. Several companies, including some furniture manufacturers, attended, looking for workers.
Corrie Johnson, a 10-year veteran of Lane, applied for a position with Toyota Boshoku Mississippi in Dorsey, a supplier to Toyota Motor Manufacturing Mississippi in Blue Springs, as well as Mercedes-Benz in Alabama.
“I thought we were going to be OK. … now I’m looking for anything. I’ve got kids,” he said.
Boshoku has hired six former Lane workers in the past couple of weeks, said Minnie Hightower, human resources director at TBMS. The workers are experienced sewing machine operators, a lost art that the company found in laid-off Lane workers.
While Johnson worked in shipping for Lane, he’s willing to do whatever it takes.
“I can’t afford to be unemployed, and I’ve got to get to work.”
But, he added, “I’ve had enough of furniture – anything but furniture.”
Gladys Clark hopes her experience will land her a job as well, but she fears her age will be a detriment.
“I worked at Lane for 281⁄2 years – it’s all I’ve ever known,” she said. “It’s harder to get a job when you’re older, but I’m going to get a job wherever I can find it.”
Clark and Johnson, like most of her colleagues at Lane, thought they had been given a second chance when private equity firm KPS Capital bought the assets of the former Furniture Brands International, which had gone bankrupt. The company said late last year that it would offer jobs to most of the 4,000 employees of Furniture Brands, whose companies included Lane, Broyhill, Thomasville, Drexel Heritage and others.
So the announcement in January that Lane’s Saltillo plant would close caught most of them off guard.
“It was a slap in the face,” Clark said. “Some were transferred to Belden, and I thought I’d go, but I wasn’t. My last day was Feb. 13. … I didn’t have a nice Valentine’s Day at all.”
Among the other companies looking to hire at the job fair were Toyota Mississippi, Winchester, some staffing agencies and several furniture manufacturers including Ashley Furniture, United Furniture, Southern Motion and H.M. Richards.
“We’re adding a frame mill, and we’re hoping to have it operating by July or August,” said H.M. Richards HR Director Brad Boyd. “This is a chance to hire some good people. … Lane has been one of the premier employers in our area because of its people, and we’re happy to be here to offer some opportunities.”
Before the job fair opened, representatives of the Mississippi Department of Employment Security offered “rapid response” services, which included help with jobless benefits info, training information, resume writing assistance and other services to help the displaced workers.
Officials met with about 130 people at Lane’s Saltillo plant on Tuesday, and met with more than 100 more at ICC-Belden on Wednesday.