Manufacturing has been on the rise in the U.S., up 5.7 percent in the two years ended December 2011. The wood industry is no exception, with a steady news stream of furniture, cabinetry and other wood products gains, as factories initiate, expand or resume production. Some examples:
• A North Carolina upholstered furniture firm outsourced all its wood frames to Europe and Asia years ago. In January, it moved wood frame production back to the U.S.
• A Connecticut-based multinational manufacturer of high-end residential furniture says it will focus its retail showroom expansion almost entirely on China. But 60 percent of the goods sold there are shipped from the Americas, mostly from the U.S.
• In Virginia a furniture maker finds success retailing children’s bedroom furniture produced exclusively in its U.S. factories, despite the fact it costs up to 75 percent more than the Chinese imports it used to sell.
• A Wisconsin residential furniture giant opened its first Shanghai retail showroom, just as it invests millions opening and expanding plants in North Carolina and Wisconsin.
These aren’t isolated reports, but headlines taken from major national newspapers over the last few weeks. It’s part of a generalized trend that is seeing the recovery of manufacturing in America.
One of the most striking cases, Chicago-based Selected Furniture, which produces solid wood chairs and wood and laminate restaurant furniture, is moving wood component manufacturing from a plant in China to a 200,000-square-foot plant newly acquired for $1.2 million in Knox, IN.
Selected Furniture has been doing assembly and finishing, plus solid wood table production, in its Chicago plant. Those operations also move to the new integrated factory in Knox.
The movement to domestic manufacture is based mostly on economics. As costs for energy have risen, shipping costs to transport goods from foreign factories to U.S. retailers erases much of the competitive advantage of foreign producers. In China, rising salaries amid competition for workers is chipping away at that country’s competitive labor advantage.
But adding to the trend is a mix of marketing with a dash of patriotic fervor. Efforts like Made in America and Made in USA initiatives, and media attention such as ABC’s “American Made” series, are building consumers’ awareness, coaxing them to seek out domestically produced goods, even if they have to pay a bit more for them.