Most observers of the upholstery industry in the United States believe it is worth saving.

Ken Pruett and the Mississippi Furniture Association think so, too. Pruett, president of Pontotoc Die Cutting in Pontotoc, Miss., a maker of furniture components, is the MFA president. He told me recently that the goal of the group is simple: Support the industry and to keep jobs in Mississippi and the U.S.

"We've lost jobs in the last 10 years, and we want to change that," Pruett says. "We want to continue to be the largest industry in the state of Mississippi. We're also the industry that drives the economy in North Mississippi, the largest center of upholstered furniture in the world."

Impact exceeds $10 billion

"The industry itself is still strong," he says. "But we're fighting imported products."

There's strength in numbers, too. There are 24,000 people who work directly in furniture factories. Vendor and supplier jobs total 70,000, and the total economic impact of the industry includes 125,000 people and adds about $10 billion to the state's economy. (The MFA has 77 member companies, including furniture manufacturers, suppliers, and vendors.)

To help keep those jobs in Mississippi, MFA is working on two proposals. The first is straightforward enough a $2,000 tax rebate for each existing cut-and-sew and related job, and an equal amount for each job that is brought into the state.

"The outsourcing of cut-and-sew has been hurting our industry the most," Pruett says. "We've also had companies that have chosen to outsource their total production. We don't want that to happen to any more companies."

MFA members are meeting with key legislators and hope to have the legislation introduced in both the state's house and senate this month. Governor Haley Barbour has also indicated he would support the proposal, Pruett says.

Brookwood Corp. in Pontotoc has closed, Schnadig closed its Belmont plant and Davis International in Okolona has become an importer. Meanwhile, Ashley is expanding its large Mississippi upholstery operation. Pruett says that Genesis, Affordable, and American Furniture are also growing. "We have more success stories than failures," he says.

Tariffs and exports

Another proposal is a foreign trade zone to equalize tariffs on imports and exports. Other goals are to boost exports, which only reached $113 million in 2006. Pruett believes manufacturers in the state could be doing much more. MFA is also working with educational programs, such as the Franklin Furniture Institute at Mississippi State.

"The biggest challenge has been the outsourcing of our product to China," Pruett says. "We think we're past the hardest part, and (in the future) we'll probably have fewer furniture manufacturers making more furniture."

If you're interested in more information about the group, email Ken Pruett at ms_k@bellsouth.net, or call him at 662.489.5874.

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