Wood firms must 'change attitude,' says Stiles 
Opening session at 3M Innovation Center, St. Paul, MN,
for woodworking industry Executive briefing Conference.


- The U.S. wood manufacturing industry competes in a global market, and must innovate in cabinetry and furniture, and adopt world standards of technology, automation, and training if it wants to survive.

This was the opening message delivered to wood manufacturing executives gathered for the ninth annual Stiles Executive Briefing Conference. 

More than 115 executives are meeting at the 3M Innovation Center in St. Paul, MN, through Tuesday, for a range of presentations covering general business and economic concerns, as well addressing wood manufacturing technology specific issues.

"Out-dated, labor intensive manufacturing processes or outsourcing to overseas locations are not sustainable solutions," said  Stiles Machinery President Peter Kleinschmidt, addressing industry media at an opening press conference. He said the of U.S., "With few exceptions, our industry is behind the investment curve, not having invested now for several years and working with 15 to 20 year old machines."

Wood industry firms in Europe and Asia are far more advanced in manufacturing processes, Kleinschmidt said, and more innovative in creating and market presentation of wood products.

"Innovation is a business driver," Kleinschmidt said, noting U.S. consumers want the same caliber wood products as do other consumers around the world. Yet domestic manufacturers continue to produce framed cabinetry and furniture in traditional finishes. He cited the success of innovative retailers such as IKEA and Crate & Barrel, for finding a receptive U.S. consumer for new styles of wood furnishings, and cabinetry in high gloss finishes manufactured with new production technologies. "I see a big change there," Kleinschmidt said.

 Wood firms must 'change attitude,' says Stiles
 Stiles Education's Duane Griffiths welcomes EBC attendees.

He also took some segments of the wood industry to task for lackluster marketing of cabinets and residential furniture.

"It's not just the way you produce it; it's the way you present it," he said, suggesting Crate & Barrel and IKEA as examples."IKEA found a new niche between low end RTA and high end furniture," he said.

In business furnishings, Kelinschmidt said "new designs, new materials and new methods" are critical as the U.S. economy recovers and competition for workers heats up. "Workspaces will be more important if you want to be an employer of choice."

The U.S. cannot rely on a service economy to sustain itself, Kleinschmidt said, and it needs to retain its manufacturing leadership. Manufacturing represents 14 percent of the U.S. GDP of $14 trillion, and drives exports, but as the global economy recovers, the U.S. and the wood manufacturing industry must invest to compete. "No market is immune from global competition, as our household furniture industry has learned at their great expense," Kleinschmidt said.

 Wood firms must 'change attitude,' says Stiles
Stiles Machinery's Peter Kleinschmidt. 

The U.S. has inherent advantages as a manufacturing base, for all industries, he said. "Ultimately logistics cost and environmental constraints will again re-unite the consumer market and the production sites within the same geographic confines," Kleinschmidt said, citing the recent trends to "on-shoring" and "back-shoring" of production, with parallels in the auto industry. "U.S. manufacturers can directly compete on costs such as machine time, packaging, freight, insurance, quality control, and raw material," he said, leaving only labor costs differential which can be mitigated through innovative processes and automation.

"There must be a renewed emphasis on manufacturing and technology which will serve as the key competitive differentiator in the global marketplace," Kleinschmidt said. Unless there is a reversal of policy, the "United States economy will not be able to create the necessary middle-class jobs or reduce our fiscal deficits."

"Our economy in general and our industry specifically must change attitude and approach," Kleinschmidt said.

The 2012 Executive Briefing Conference will be held March 4-6, 2012 in Charlotte, NC.

Read more about the woodworking industry Executive Briefing Conference.>>

Conducted by Stiles Education, Executive Briefing Conference is structured a non-commercial forum for discussing business and technology trends affecting the wood manufacturing industries.

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