EDITORIAL: Is anyone listening?

Dozens of Northeast Mississippi furniture manufacturing executives and plant owners sent additional signals Tuesday to state and federal politicians and policymakers that they need help in competing against foreign labor and imported goods to save thousands of jobs in our state.
U.S. Rep. Travis Childers, D-Booneville, met with several dozen furniture executives and owners representing companies employing from a few dozen to several thousand people, and their consensus voice was a need to reduce cost-producing government policies while increasing tax breaks and other incentives from the state and federal governments.
The afternoon meeting at the Tupelo Furniture Market with Childers was organized by the Mississippi Furniture Association, a trade organization that has sought state relief to save jobs, especially cut-and-sew positions that have fled offshore by the thousands in the past decade.
Many MFA members were angered and disappointed earlier in 2009 when Gov. Barbour vetoed incentive legislation, with no override attempt made by the Legislature.
We believe the manufacturers have legitimate concerns, especially about federal trade policies that place tariffs on much of the fabric imported for use in the upholstered furniture industry. The tariffs by and large are remnants of levies assessed to protect the American fabric industry, which has all but disappeared as a major industrial force.
Ken Pruett, president of MFA, said removing a 17 percent tariff paid on many fabrics used by manufacturers could reduce costs an average of $9 per piece of furniture. In a plant making 5,000 units per day the impact would be $45,000, which would mean more than $1 million in cost savings in a year. The impact on jobs and profitability is obvious.
Tariffs on one fabric extensively used by three Lee County furniture companies was removed in 2008, and those industries, Bauhaus, Lane, and H.M. Richards, all were represented at Tuesday’s meeting in support of further relief – state and federal.
Childers promised manufacturers he would work to eliminate the tariff, which is trade policy and not federal statute. Childers also said he will work to reduce or eliminate costs associated with achieving Foreign Trade Zone status for more industries and areas outside Lee County.
We believe furniture manufacturing, whose leaders acknowledge their viability for the long term is threatened, deserve an ear from leaders, lawmakers and policymakers from both parties.
One possibility quietly expressed Tuesday afternoon was a state tax credit for all tariffs paid by all furniture manufacturers, but that is in the early discussion stage.
Furniture jobs are the main household income for many Northeast Mississippi families. They cannot be taken for granted, especially when unemployment in the region is 11.2 percent, up from 8.8. percent a year ago.

NEMS Daily Journal