‘Made in America’ looks to make statement at High Point market

McClatchy Regional News

HIGH POINT — The reason Robert Deese is optimistic about the future of American-made furniture lies in the innards of the sofas made at his Montgomery County plant.

A vice president at Lancer Furniture in Star, Deese stood in a High Point Market showroom full of his company’s products on Sunday and explained why customers are increasingly dissatisfied with imported furniture.

“That’s the thing with upholstered furniture — the value is on the inside,” he said. “You can’t see it unless you flip it over and start cutting it apart. You can’t show somebody. And the Chinese, some of the fabrics and foam they use can make it look really pretty, except three months from now, you couldn’t tell that the foam was bad, the (design) is going to come off the fabric and that the particle board or half-inch plywood could come apart.”

Lancer is one of 60 furniture exhibitors in the Made in America Pavilion in the Suites at Market Square at the fall market, which continues through Thursday.

The 25,000-square-foot exhibit space is devoted solely to domestically-produced goods, according to International Market Centers, which operates the showroom. Launched two years ago with 30 exhibitors, the pavilion has doubled in size following an aggressive sales and marketing effort and an increase in consumer demand for American-made furniture, according to IMC.

In addition to wooden furniture, exhibits at the pavilion include upholstery, rugs, wall art and decorative accessories.

“For many retailers and designers, offering domestically-produced merchandise has moved from a trend in the marketplace to an absolute expectation by their customers to present American-made options,” said Julie Messner, vice president of leasing for IMC.

While several factors related to overseas furniture production — such as an increase in offshore labor and shipping costs — have played into the hands of American manufacturers, Deese said consumer tastes are driving many of the trends.

“We’re getting a good response out of people wanting to buy ‘Made in America.’ They’ve had enough experience with buying some of the Chinese stuff,” he said.

Other Made in America pavilion exhibitors said having domestic furniture companies gathered in one spot should help them reach more buyers.

Wally Mitchum, president of Carolina Classic Furniture in Granite Falls, said people at the pavilion appreciate the stories of companies like his, which came up with a variety of new designs for its furniture after a 2006 fire destroyed his factory.

“That’s why I’m here, because I believe in ‘Made in America,’” said Mitchum. “For some other businesses, they’re about, ‘I want to make a dollar.’ They don’t care about how it’s done.”

Deese said he’s seen the market put more emphasis on American-made products.

“We think being here pulls us out from the crowd,” he said. “We can really make sure people understand we do American fabrics, we have our own foam facility. Pretty much the whole process is done right there.”

Andy McAlister is another Made in America pavilion exhibitor banking on the growth in consumer appetites for hand-crafted furniture.

Before he went to work for Wellborn Industries, Inc. — a Jacksons Gap, Ala. company that processes the wood inside old mills into custom-made furniture — McAlister said he worked for a large furniture company and was involved in extensive offshore production.

“I used to import 300 containers (of furniture) a year, and I’m not proud of that, but that’s just what we did back in the day,” said McAlister. “One reason things have changed is that, for people like me, they’re a little older and they see what it does to the country when you buy overseas.”

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Made in USA Certified

Made in America: Trend Against Outsourcing Brings Jobs Back From China

Manufacturing is now underway at Lincolnton Furniture in North Carolina

Sat Jan 14, 2012 9:59 AM EST

By Sopan Deb
Rock Center

The United States may be on the verge of bringing back manufacturing jobs from China.

Harold Sirkin, along with Michael Zinser and Douglas Hohner (all experts from the Boston Consulting Group – a leading business advising firm), says that outsourcing manufacturing to China is not as cheap as it used to be and that the United States is poised to bring back jobs from China. The three consultants first reached this conclusion in a recently published study titled “Made in America, Again: Why Manufacturing Will Return to the U.S.”

Many companies, especially in the auto and furniture industries, moved plants overseas once China opened its doors to free trade and foreign investment in the last few decades. Labor was cheaper for American companies – less than $1 per hour according to the BCG report. Today, labor costs in China have risen dramatically, and shipping and fuel costs have skyrocketed. As China’s economy has expanded, and China has built new factories all across the country, the demand for workers has risen. As a result, wages are up as new companies compete to hire the best workers.

“The tilt is now getting lower,” Sirkin says. “We think somewhere around 2015 it’ll look flat and may start to tilt in the U.S. favor at that point in time.”

By 2015,  it will only be about 10 percent cheaper to manufacture in China.

“We have to recognize one thing,” Sirkin told NBC’s Harry Smith in an interview to air Monday on Rock Center with Brian Williams. “The average Chinese worker is about a quarter as productive as the average U.S. worker.”

“It’ll be a major impact. Our projections are, when you take the manufacturing jobs and then the service jobs that get created alongside those, that we will add two to three million jobs to the U.S. workforce.”

The U.S. is already seeing examples of this – starting  in Lincolnton, North Carolina.

Rock Center has been following Bruce Cochrane of Lincolnton Furniture as he brings his family business back to the U.S. and re-opens the family furniture plant. Cochrane was invited to the White House last week for a forum on job creation with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.

“Now, you don’t have be a big manufacturer to insource jobs,” Obama said.  “Bruce Cochrane’s family had manufactured furniture in North Carolina for five generations.  But in 1996, as jobs began shifting to Asia, the family sold their business, and Bruce spent time in China and Vietnam as a consultant for American furniture makers.  But while he was there, he noticed something he didn’t expect: their consumers actually wanted to buy things made in America. So he came home and started a new company, Lincolnton Furniture, which operates out of the old family factories. He’s even re-hired many of the former workers from his family business. “

According to BCG, another manufacturer, Sleek Audio, moved production of its headphones from Chinese suppliers to a plant in Florida. Ford Motor Company is bringing back 2,000 jobs from China after striking an agreement with the United Auto Workers. Sirkin says it’s good news for the economy even though wages will be lower in those jobs than they were previously.

Sirkin believes fears that United States manufacturing is in decline are overstated and notes that the U.S. is still a manufacturing giant. In 2010, China provided 19.8 percent of global manufacturing value added. The U.S. accounted for a marginally less 19.4 percent, which, according to Boston Consulting, was “a share that has declined only slightly over the past three decades.”

Editor’s Note: Harry Smith’s full report, ‘Made in America,’ airs Monday, January 16 at 10pm/9c on NBC’s Rock Center with Brian Williams.

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