Lt. Gov. listens to furniture officials

ECRU – Standing in a sea of empty sewing machine stations and surrounded by cut-and-sew kits imported from China, Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant on Wednesday listened to furniture officials talk about the difficulties the industry faced.
“We’ve lost 1,100 furniture jobs since the beginning of the year, and 400 of those are cut-and-sew jobs,” said Ken Pruett, president of the Mississippi Furniture Association.
Ken Ranager, American Furniture Manunfacturing’s vice president of operations, said his company has had to eliminate 100 cut-and-sew jobs since July, leaving only 130. At its peak, the company had 300 cut-and-sew jobs.
Because it’s cheaper to import the kits from China, more cut-and-sew jobs will be lost across Northeast Mississippi.
The kits are pre-cut swatches of fabric used to cover furniture. But if they’re made in the U.S., furniture manufacturers pay an additional 17 percent tariff on the rolled fabric that they import, and bear higher wage and benefit costs to employees who cut and sew the material.
It’s a competitive disadvantage and furniture leaders say they need help to keep domestic cut-and-sew jobs. Earlier this year, they pushed a bill that would have provided a tax credit to furniture manufacturers who retained or brought back cut-and-sew jobs.
The Legislature passed the bill without dissent, only to have it vetoed by Gov. Haley Barbour.
Bryant, who toured two furniture plants and met with industry leaders and legislators after the tour, said he would work to get the bill through. But he said it would not be easy.
“I love targeted tax cuts,” Bryant said. “If tax cuts save jobs … that’s a good thing.”
Bryant said he would work with legislators to craft a bill that would answer any concerns Barbour has. But he said furniture leaders and legislators likely would have to compromise in order to get Barbour’s approval.
When he vetoed the bill, Barbour said it unfairly targeted one industry and that the state’s already strained general budget could not absorb the cuts.
However, furniture officials say that the tax credits would not have required any money up front. And they, along with some legislators, say Barbour never expressed any reservations about the bill until he vetoed it.
But Bryant and other bill supporters say they’re ready to get help for the furniture industry.
“I don’t want to make any empty promises,” he said after the tour. “I want to be part of the solution. I hope it’s within my power. I’m going to do all I can to help this industry.”

Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal