Nothing brings competitors together like the threat of even bigger competition.
Among the crowd of different furniture manufacturing representatives at Mississippi State University’s Franklin Furniture Institute on Wednesday, that seemed to be the sentiment. About 75 people from furniture companies, suppliers and industry trade organizations from Mississippi and seven other states met to discuss current challenges.
Foreign competition, increased government regulation and other industry challenges have caused many furniture plants to close in Mississippi and other states. From 2005 to 2010, furniture-manufacturing jobs in the state fell by about 35 percent to 18,023, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Statistics. Similarly, furniture suppliers also saw a decrease in jobs during the same period, to 23,496, or about 29 percent.
Many companies have decided to analyze best practices with the help of MSU's Franklin Furniture Institute. The university-based institute works to sustain jobs and enhance competitiveness of the furniture and home furnishings industry in the state and region.
"Everyone's got the same problems," said Bill Martin, director of the Franklin Furniture Institute. "We want to educate those in the industry about issues important to them."
Along with learning about challenges at the second annual furniture manufacturing summit at MSU, attendees heard success stories of different companies, many about improving environmental policy while cutting costs. They also learned how university services can benefit furniture-manufacturing companies in the state.
Industry leaders say furniture manufacturing may see brighter days relatively soon. With economists suggesting stronger consumer confidence and anticipated increases in single-family home construction, furniture manufactures have reason to feel optimistic.
Jerry Epperson, a financial analyst who has focused on the furniture industry for more than 30 years, told the group recent economic problems have similarities to the "extreme trauma" felt in the United States during WWII. He also suggested that the nation may experience a period of strong growth, like the period which followed the war.
"I think there are parallels to what we’ve just been through," Epperson said, speaking in a video feed from his office in Richmond, Va. "This year will be perceived as the first year when Americans feel like they were no longer in a recession."
At the conference, Martin said furniture manufacturing facilities’ expansion in the state is a positive sign for people looking for work and the hope for an improved regional economy.
For example, Southern Motion, a company based in Pontotoc, opened a new facility in Baldwyn earlier this year, creating about 150 jobs.
"We’ve had companies expand," Martin said. "If they keep investing in human capital, technology, and servicing their customers, everything else will take care of itself."