Manufacturing basics: Career center is last bastion for furniture

By Regina Butler/NEMS Daily Journal

Pontotoc’s Career and Technology Center is unique in that it boasts the only furniture manufacturing class in the state of Mississippi.
And it was in danger of being cut. Given a two year reprieve by the state regulators because of the support from educators and business leaders alike, the program, taught by Barry Reeder continues to show students the basics of furniture manufacturing.
“When I started teaching here seven years ago there were four programs in the state,” Reeder said. “Okolona, Houston, Northeast Tippah and Pontotoc.”
Through the years the programs in the other schools were discontinued and the state department wanted to also discontinue Pontotoc’s program.
“We proved to the department that Pontotoc County has the highest percentage of manufacturing jobs in the state,” he said. In fact, that number is 55.8 percent.
“The teachers here found students who had been impacted by the furniture making class and the furniture industry folks came and voiced their support for what we are teaching here.”
A staunch believer in the impact that the furniture industry has made on the entire nation, Reeder gave a couple of statistics.
“I tell my students when they first come into this class that 60 percent of the furniture built in the United States is built on Highway 15, there are 5,000 jobs on that one corridor alone in the furniture business.”
And it’s not just the fact that these industries give families milk and bread for their table, it is the other ways they impact the community that make what he is teaching the students so vital to the success of a community.
“I’ve always said people don’t realize what the furniture industry does for Mississippi. Go to any of the football games and in that program you will see ads from the furniture industry. They are home folks.”
Reeder realizes this because of the many years he has spent in the furniture industry, first working at Barclay in 1984
At the Career Center Reeder teaches the students every aspect of making a piece of furniture.
“We cut and assemble a frame, we cut the padding and all the components that go into a piece of furniture before the padding then pad it, cut the fabric and sew.
“The girls learn how to cut frames and the guys learn how to sew.”
And thinking outside the box, he teaches the students how to make and cut their own patterns.
“I want them to know how to do it from ground up in case they want to establish their own furniture making business one day They will know how to do it.”
Reeder said he is grateful to the furniture industries in Pontotoc because they send their extra fabric and padding to the career center to be used in teaching the students.
“We lay our patterns carefully and get the most use out of the material,” he said. “A pet peeve of mine is to waste material.”
Reeder said his program has one more year to be in the Career Center and then another re-evaluation from the state.
One of the reasons the class came under scrutiny is because this class, like all other classes, has to have proof of people going into the field they were taught. “Sometimes a student may go to college right after high school, but then go into the furniture industry later.”
But as long as he can, you will find Barry Reeder in the furniture shop teaching students how to make a good standing chair.