By STEVEN NALLEY
Several furniture industry luminaries gathered at Mississippi State University’s Franklin Furniture Institute Wednesday for the American Home Furnishings Alliance’s annual manufacturing summit Wednesday.
Chief among the guest speakers was Bruce Cochrane, founder of Lincolnton Furniture, who sat in the First Lady’s box at the 2012 State of the Union address. Other guest speakers included Wyatt Bassett, president of Vaughan-Bassett Furniture; Jerry Epperson, founder and managing director of the consulting group Mann, Armistead and Epperson, Ltd.; Bill Perdue, AHFA vice president of regulatory affairs and MSU football coach Dan Mullen. Gov. Phil Bryant was scheduled to give the keynote speech but canceled due to inclement weather.
Bill Martin, director of the Franklin Furniture Institute, said the conference was a success. He said more than 80 people attended, representing furniture industries from not only Mississippi but also Washington, Missouri, North Carolina and Georgia.
“We had great feedback from our attendees,” Martin said. “We heard a lot of neat, new ideas people can take home with them ... about how we can prepare ourselves to get jobs coming back to the U.S., about things we can do to ... sustain our environment and to reduce costs (and) things we can do from a technology standpoint. ... We can simulate models that help us make decisions before we have to go make a sample.”
Cochrane said the conference was his first visit to the university, and MSU’s efforts to aid the industry and engagement with different industry elements surprised him. He said he enjoyed the conference and considered implementing the manufacturing process modeling professors from MSU’s Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems demonstrated at the conference’s end.
Cochrane sold one furniture company in 1997, formed Cochrane Source, LLC to help furniture manufacturers with Asian imports, and started a new manufacturing company called Lincolnton Furniture, which began production in January 2012. He said he returned to furniture manufacturing because he saw a change in China’s economic climate which could restore American manufacturing jobs.
“Consumption in China is really increasing dramatically,” Cochrane said. “Last year in the Chinese’s 12th five-year plan, they did not mention any export initiatives as they had over the past 15 years. They spoke of Chinese consumerism and the consumer market.”
Cochrane said current projections call for China’s consumption market to grow from $2 trillion in 2009 to $15 trillion within the next six to eight years.
“($2 trillion is) less than 5 percent of global consumption,” Cochrane said. “$15 trillion would be) almost 25 percent of global consumption. The prospect is China will be consuming everything that they can make, and they will be consuming much of what the other Asian countries can make and be consuming a lot of what we can make for them.”
David Purvis, executive director of AHFA’s specialized furniture carriers division, said not all the news at the conference was good for American business. He said Bill Perdue gave a presentation revealing a $1.7 trillion cost for U.S. government regulations on businesses.
“Obviously, the regulators are trying to clean up the environment, but that doesn’t mean there’s not a cost associated with it on the other side as well,” Purvis said.
Purvis said one of the AHFA’s many functions is to give members tool kits to help businesses implement regulatory legislation.
“We have solutions,” Purvis said. “The good news is, we had people from the government here today. We had people from economic development here today. We had the manufacturers here today. We had the suppliers for the manufacturers here today working on bringing jobs back to the Starkville area (and other parts of the U.S.) Everybody was in there pitching what they’re doing to bring that about.”