During much of the 20th century furniture was one of the leading industries in North Carolina. However, in the last couple of decades, furniture manufacturing has gone through a tremendous downsizing in both workers and production. N.C. State University economist Mike Walden considers the industry’s future.
“Just to give you some numbers on that downsizing — and it has been tremendous — in the last decade furniture output in North Carolina is down about 66 percent. And employment is off about 60 percent. We still have a furniture industry left, but certainly not at the levels that we used to have.
“And of course foreign competition has been a big factor in that for many kinds of furnitures, standard furniture, it’s cheaper to make it overseas and even ship it here. But that all said, what we’re beginning to see in North Carolina is a … modest comeback — I’ll call it modest comeback — of the furniture industry in certain areas.
“We’re not seeing companies coming back that are compete, that are going to compete with those mass-produced, lower-priced pieces of furniture that are made in foreign countries. But, instead, what these new companies in North Carolina are focusing on are smaller what we call niche markets. Those markets can be both domestic as well as worldwide. These companies are, are focusing on providing higher-quality, custom products, fast delivery, a lot of interaction with their customers to make sure their customers get what they want.
“And … there’s a role for that. And because that … small industry is beginning to blossom, it appears to be paying off. Interestingly Mary, the … geographical location of this furniture rebirth is still in the western part of North Carolina, tapping in to that historical expertise that’s still there from the furniture industry of days past.
“So … this is exciting. I’m certainly not saying that the furniture industry is going to go back (and stay) to … where it used to be. But it does show us that industries can change. Industries can adapt. And we certainly want to applaud our domestic furniture industry for doing that.”