Regional wood furniture manufacturers across the U.S. could stand to gain if Harry Watt's hunch is proven right.
Watt teaches wood production and technology at North Carolina State University. Under the Wood Education and Resource Center, in Princeton, WV, Watt advances wood manufacturing skills and operates U.S. Department of Agriculture funded outreach programs intended to increase skills among woodworking companies, including expanding markets for their products.
At IWF 2012 in August, Watt told me about his feeling that schools and government agencies within states should be thinking about buying wood furniture manufactured locally.
In October, Watt launched a research project to study just that - looking at the potential for influencing the purchasing decision to encourage producing and selling school furniture and other public furniture locally.
The supply chain for publicly funded furniture purchases is well established, but perhaps not permanently entrenched.
Currently multiple government agencies subscribe to group purchasing schemes, such as the The National Joint Powers Alliance, that provide favored pricing for members from across the country, or the U.S. Communities Government Purchasing Alliance, that sets purchasing standards and pricing for big companies like Haworth, Hermann Miller and Knoll.
"Local governments spend large amounts of money furnishing new schools and government facilities, and replacing furniture," Watt's announcement about the research project notes. "Currently only a minor portion of furniture expenditures are being made on wooden furniture made with U.S. hardwood lumber and plywood materials."
With little sales going to local and regional wood products manufacturers, Watt got backing for the USDA Forest Service Public Furniture Research Project. North Carolina State University will help investigate the level of interest by local governments and schools in purchasing wooden furniture 30 school systems and local governments in three states.
Watt is devising furniture prototypes in the form of 50 3-D models of wooden furniture that could meet school and government requirements. He envisions these templates being used by local shops to compete in bids, supported by a parts list needed for costing and manufacturing, plus pre-written specifications to meet the bidding process..
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