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Opportunities await state’s furniture industry

Mississippi is the national leader in upholstered furniture manufacturing, ringing in at $6 billion. Yet, Mississippi ranks 11 in exporting furniture. In February, the Franklin Furniture Institute (FFI) of Mississippi State University opened the Exportation Resource Service (ERS) to help the state’s furniture manufacturers grow their overseas sales. The Franklin Furniture Institute worked with state and federal including Mississippi Development Authority’s International Trade Office and U.S. Department of Commerce’s Mississippi Export Assistance Center to form this Small Business Administration-funded organization that is to help educate Mississippi furniture manufacturers of the exportation route, and how it can help their business.

Now, with the constant decline of the economy, how has a few months affected this goal? Bill Martin, FFI director explained, first, some of the goals for the ERS. “There is such a lack of understanding and knowledge toward how to handle exporting products,” Martin states. With the economy in the shape that it’s in, it may be helpful to pick up exporting more to different countries, but it can be a big step for manufacturers who are less informed on the subject. So, ERS was formed to build the knowledge needed for these manufacturers to move forward.

Martin notes collecting information will give Mississippi’s furniture industry the boost it needs to bring more revenue to the state through exportation. This need for education is where the connections to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Mississippi Export Assistance Center (MEAC), the Mississippi Development Authority’s (MDA) International Trade Office and the North Carolina Department of Commerce come in handy. The ERS uses these resources to bring information in question to the hands of manufacturers. After this, it is their responsibility to grab the opportunity to explore exporting their goods. “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink,” Martin says.

Through the few months of experience with ERS Martin has, he says there have been a few notable positive and negative insights. He acknowledges there has been a large amount of interest, as well as the industry seeing exporting as additional customers, and inevitably, more revenue.

Unfortunately, Martin has seen the amount of effort it takes for companies to export, and the lack of resources some companies need to make this jump. Martin says things have not gone as well as expected, but he expressed high hopes. “It takes a while to get it going,” he said, mentioning there is plenty of hard work ahead. “What we hope to do is take the first year to establish a base, then market it to increase awareness of the opportunities for the furniture industry,” Martin explains.

Once these issues are resolved, and the ERS ball is rolling, Mississippi furniture manufacturers will have outlets for exporting in not only the existing primary markets of Mexico and Canada, but also other markets that show the most promise for furniture-makers. Martin explained that due to some of the issues in Mexico there may be a little trouble there, but the exporting market isn’t closed, there are plenty of other marketable areas.

FFI export assistant Debbie Miller said, “The Middle East is one of the largest markets, right now. Also, the Caribbean is a growing opportunity for furniture exportation from our state. It is our job to help eliminate the confusion of the regulations, forms, etc. of these different area’s terms of trade,”

Martin notes that Mississippi needs to market its resources, and press forward on exporting its goods around the world. “It’s something that the furniture-producing industry needs. And though it’s difficult to generate interest due to the lack of knowledge the industry has on exporting, this validates the process that the ERS is taking in educating these manufacturers.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Leslie Galloway at leslie.galloway@msbusiness.com .

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