By Mike Wilson

Andy Counts, the CEO of the American Home Furnishings Alliance, which acts as administrator to the Furniture Foundation, talks about the nonprofit organization's goals, programs and future plans.

The Furniture Foundation is banking on education to help the U.S. furniture-making industry battle foreign competition, as well as local labor shortages. The nonprofit organization, which has donated millions of dollars to students and universities since 1991, funds a variety of residential furniture-making education programs and scholarships.

The Furniture Foundation was founded in 1948 by Henry Foscue to support North Carolina State University's Furniture Manufacturing and Management curriculum. Foscue served as president of the foundation until his death in 1985. The organization was then reorganized, and the American Furniture Manufacturers Assn. (now the American Home Furnishings Alliance) stepped in as administrator.

For the 2007/2008 school year the foundation is allocating $134,000 for scholarships, education and research at Appalachian State University, Mississippi State University, North Carolina State University and Lenoir-Rhyne College. Appalachian State's grant will provide scholarships to students enrolled in the school's Furniture Industry Studies program, while the money donated to North Carolina State will support its Furniture Manufacturing and Management Center. Meanwhile, money given to Lenoir-Rhyne College is being earmarked for a series of public forums to look at issues in the Hickory, NC, region.

Andy Counts is the CEO of the American Home Furnishings Alliance, which is now the administrator of the Furniture Foundation. ISWonline recently caught up with Counts to talk about how donations are improving the competitiveness of the U. S. furniture-making industry, and to learn about the future plans for the foundation.

ISWonline: About how much money has the Furniture Foundation given colleges with furniture-making curriculums since it began distributing scholarships and grants in 1990?

Counts: (It has donated) over $3 million.

ISWonline: What kinds of programs related to furniture manufacturing do those colleges offer?

Counts: The various institutions that have received support offer a broad spectrum of programs such as interior design, supply chain management and engineering.

ISWonline: How many different colleges and universities have received grants from the Furniture Foundation? Are they concentrated in any particular area of the country or are they spread out?

Counts: To date six, different colleges and universities have received support. They all happen to be located in the Southeast, but we attribute this to a lack of awareness by other (college) programs.

ISWonline: Do you know how many students with scholarships from the Furniture Foundation get jobs in the residential furniture manufacturing industry after graduating?

Counts: The actual selection of recipients is made by the institution receiving the grant and the foundation does not require a recipient to work in the furniture industry as a condition of the scholarship. However, a large percentage of these recipients are known to stay within the furniture industry, either in manufacturing, retail, marketing, or design.

ISWonline: According to discussions with manufacturers and companies on our WOOD 100 Report, one of the top concerns in the woodworking industry is retaining and hiring employees. How is this grant program addressing this issue, and what positive results have you seen since it began?

Counts: The institutions we have supported in the past develop future managers for positions within the furniture industry. Foundation grants are also available to those institutions and programs working to train and prepare individuals for plant level positions. The foundation encourages these programs to apply for support.

ISWonline: Are you finding that the number of colleges offering programs related to the furniture industry is increasing, decreasing, or staying about the same?

Counts: As business models within the industry have changed the types of skill sets needed to be successful have changed. As a result the number relevant degree programs have increased.

ISWonline: Will graduates of these programs help the U.S. furniture industry compete with offshore manufacturers? If so, how?

Counts: The programs we support produce graduates that will improve the competitiveness of their employers.

ISWonline: What are your future plans and goals for the Furniture Foundation’s grant program?

Counts: We hope to broaden awareness of (Furniture) Foundation grants across the industry and add variety to the types of research and projects we support.

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