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Furniture brands international exec Mickey Holliman will share business insights

MEC annual meeting focuses on furniture industry success

About 1,000 of the state’s top business leaders will convene at the Mississippi Economic Council annual membership meeting May 21 at the Crowne Plaza in downtown Jackson, which will pay tribute to the state’s furniture industry and feature a keynote address by W.G. “Mickey” Holliman Jr., chairman of the largest manufacturer of residential furniture in the world.

“Focusing on the furniture industry is a great way to celebrate business in Mississippi,” said MEC President Blake Wilson. “Many times, people think high-tech is only computers and wires and telephones and the Internet. But when you walk through most any manufacturing plant today, it’s pretty high-tech. And I think that’s a message we can send, that we’ve got to continually improve the education level of our workforce in the state. The furniture industry is now moving to its next level.”

A native of Columbus, Holliman grew up in Shuqualak. After receiving an undergraduate degree in industrial management from Mississippi State University, Holliman joined the Futorian Corp. in 1960, eventually managing its Stratolounger division. In 1970, he co-founded Action Industries, known today as Lane Furniture Industries. In 1996, he was elected president and CEO of Furniture Brands International and was elected chairman in 1998.

“Morris Futorian initiated this movement in 1948,” said Holliman. “A lot of companies, including our own, sprang up as a result of those of us who worked for this gentleman. The whole furniture industry mushroomed from that one company. We’ll do our best to relate that story and to hopefully energize the audience to capitalize on younger people who also have a burning entrepreneurial desire.”

Holliman lives in Tupelo and serves as chairman, president and CEO of St. Louis, Mo.-based Furniture Brands International. Through its Lane Furniture Industries division, the company employs more than 4,000 people in four manufacturing facilities in Lee and Pontotoc counties.

The company markets its products under a number of brands, three of which are among the best known brand names in the industry — Broyhill, Lane and Thomasville. It is the industry leader in motion furniture, second in the reclining chair market and a major player in leather stationary and imported case goods.

“When you depart from the northeast sector of the state, there’s very little awareness in Mississippi of the presence and impact of the furniture industry,” said Holliman. “Everybody knows about the gaming industry, but they’re not up to speed about the furniture industry. I’ll try to get the message across about the results being generated.”

Mississippi is considered the upholstered furniture capital of the world, employing approximately 30,000 Mississippians, which accounts for 13% of the manufacturing sector and 11% of the manufacturing payroll. Located primarily in Northeast Mississippi, the furniture industry was one of the state’s first industrial clusters.

“I’ll discuss the influence of offshore importing and its impact on the industry,” said Holliman. “In the apparel, shoe and electronics industries, a lot of that capacity has left the U.S. and has gone offshore. Some of that is happening to us, particularly in wood products. There’s some in upholstery, but not a lot. I’ll talk about measures we’re taking from a technological point of view about saving upholstery jobs.”

The Tupelo Furniture Market, held every spring and fall, is home of the No. 2 furniture show in the world, second only to High Point, N.C.

“The entrepreneurial spirit was already working well in Northeast Mississippi when the furniture market began,” said V.M. Cleveland, president and owner of the Tupelo Furniture Market. “The market was like the jet engine that powered the furniture industry to another high. Its success has attracted powerful furniture buyers from every U.S. state and 32 foreign countries. We’ve grown from a 14,000-square-foot show in 1987 to a $1.5 million arena with 35,000 visitors. We’re larger than Dallas, Atlanta and San Francisco — cities with international airports, thousands of hotel rooms and transit systems — and twice as large as the No. 3 market, San Francisco. Many people don’t realize the impact, but it’s quite a phenomenon for Mississippi.”

Every market, more than 1,000 private homes in the Tupelo area are rented to furniture buyers, Cleveland said.

“People move out, go on vacation, and about $5 million is put in the local economy’s pocket every year before the market even starts,” he said. “No one knows the full economic impact because there are so many factors to consider.

“For example, Ashley Furniture Co., which just did $1.1 billion this year, is a Wisconsin-based company. They were a Northern case goods-only company, showing in the Tupelo market for three or four years. They decided to put upholstery furniture in their lineup, so they put in an upholstery plant in Ecru, because we have all of the necessary infrastructure. Now they have 1.2 million square feet and employ 2,500 at the Ecru and Ripley plants. Without networking through the furniture market, they wouldn’t have known about Tupelo.”

The Tupelo Furniture Market, held in February and August, is considered a regional market. The furniture market in High Point, N.C., held in April and October, is considered an international market and draws 70,000 furniture buyers for each show.

“There’s an effort underway to establish a regional market in Las Vegas,” said Holliman. “If it materializes, the market in San Francisco, held every January and June, will probably go away and Las Vegas will replace it as a West Coast market. The Tupelo market is very significant and continues to grow.”

Registration begins and exhibit booths open at 9 a.m. for MEC’s annual membership meeting, followed by morning sessions, which will focus on Leadership Mississippi mentoring programs and feature state attorney general Mike Moore, former Gov. William Winter and Leadership Mississippi chair Robin Robinson, and discussions about education, tort reform and infrastructure issues. MEC’s annual state of the state business poll results will be released.

The luncheon, which begins at noon and concludes around 1:45 p.m., will feature special performances by Mississippi Symphony members led by maestro Crafton Beck. Gov. Ronnie Musgrove and Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck are expected to make special remarks.

For information on the annual membership meeting, contact MEC at (800) 748-7626 or visit www.mec.ms.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at (800) 993-3392 or lwjeter@yahoo.com</a.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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