Northeast Mississippi’s economic development professionals and government agencies with defined roles to play have prepared extensively for the possibility that Lane Furniture Industries will lay off its 1,451 employees in the region before or on Oct. 14.
The company, owned by Furniture Brands International of St. Louis, has been the subject of both speculation and public reporting of its financial issues for months. The parent company, Furniture Brands, filed Monday for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, but Lane was being marketed as a “sale alternative” not grouped with other Furniture Brands names Drexel Heritage, Thomasville, Broyhill, Maitland Smith and others.
FBI said it was hearing from prospective buyers/bidders regarding Lane but not affiliated with Oaktree Capital Management, which is handling the bankruptcy and other transactions for the parent firm.
If Lane terminates its 1,451 workers in the region it would be larger than the closing of Sara Lee Foods in West Point, which involved about 1,250 employees in 2007.
Should the terminations occur, a coalition of agencies and private-sector partners would use emergency federal funds from the Department of Labor in a “rapid response” to help former Lane employees find new jobs, get training for a different kind of job and provide other kinds of assistance to help individuals and families maintain financial stability.
Bill Renick, who handles rapid response business for Three Rivers Planning and Development District, said $4 million in federal funds was used in the Sara Lee situation and more than that could be expected if all the elements fall into place involving Lane.
Three Rivers probably would join in a coalition also comprised of Itawamba Community College, the Community Development Foundation, the Mississippi Department of Employment Security and the U.S. Department of Labor, which provides the funds.
As Renick stressed, the emergency funding is not a giveaway. The purpose is to retrain, as necessary, all who seek a new job and request assistance. Renick also said some employees will independently find new work on their own, especially those with higher educational attainment and training.
Nobody wants Lane to close its operations in Saltillo, Belden and Verona and a distribution center in Wren, but if it happens the helpful, practical resources of the federal government will be ready to access.