By LISA MONTI
When American Furniture officials announced in December the company had expanded its footprint in Mississippi by locating manufacturing operations in Amory, state leaders took the $560,000 investment in Monroe County as a good sign. The company also has manufacturing operations in Ecru.
“Mississippi’s furniture manufacturing industry has experienced significant growth over the past year, and American Furniture’s expansion into Amory is a good indicator that momentum will continue in the coming year, “ said Gov. Phil Bryant.
From the Tupelo/Lee County area, the furniture industry is healthy with other furniture manufacturers looking to grow and expand as well, said David Rumbarger, president and CEO of the Tupelo/Lee County Community Development Foundation.
“Twenty three percent of the manufacturing base in Lee County is in furniture. However, it is still not where it was over 20 years ago when 35 percent of Lee County’s manufacturing base was in furniture” he said. “At that time, almost one out of every three jobs was related to furniture industry.”
Rumbarger said the county has worked to become more diversified over the years, added plastics, automotive and advanced manufacturing to enhance its economy.
But furniture is still a major force, he said. “Some of the surrounding counties still hold 70 to 85 percent of its manufacturing base related to the furniture industry.”
American Furniture’s decision to expand is the latest of several to come to the area.
Last July, Fusion Furniture Inc., an upholstered furniture maker, announced it was expanding operations at its Ecru facility in Pontotoc County. The $1.6 million investment is expected to create 100 jobs, adding to the 330 employees in Ecru.
Founded in 2009 in Ecru, Fusion Furniture specializes in manufacturing upholstered sofas, sectionals, love seats, sleeper sofas, chairs, ottomans and chaises.
The month before Fusion Furniture’s announcement, upholstered furniture manufacturer H.M. Richards said it was expanding operations at its location in the Harry A. Martin North Lee Industrial Complex in Guntown in Lee County. The $8 million investment will create 500 jobs. H.M. Richards has 977 employees in a 900,000-square-foot facility in Guntown.
The company, which makes products for Cindy Crawford Home and the Sofia Vergara Collection, was founded in 1997 in Saltillo. Its products are distributed to major furniture and department stores in the U.S. and Canada.
Two other announcements from furniture makers came out last year.
In April, Southern Motion, a reclining furniture manufacturer, said it was expanding operations at its facility in Baldwyn to handle more production.
The $600,000 expansion was to add 60 employees to the 235 workers at the facility.
Southern Motion also has 1,100 employees working at its plant in Pontotoc where the company was founded in 1996. It makes recliners, sofas and love seats, sectionals and home theater furniture.
In May, Emerald Home Furnishings, a maker of stationary furniture, announced it was locating operations in New Albany in a facility formerly occupied by Hickory Springs. The project represents a corporate investment of more than $2 million and is expected to create 150 jobs.
Rumbarger said all the announcements of expansions project a positive image for the industry throughout North Mississippi “not only in the production phase, but Lee County is the supplier base for the entire industry in North Mississippi, including foam mechanisms and other components which has grown by leaps and bounds as the furniture industry grows.”
Additionally, he said, “growth within our furniture industry supports other industries that depend on success of the furniture industry like trucking, timber and wood products, and the cardboard and packaging industry. As the furniture industry grows, those industries also thrive.”
The impact of the expansions on small towns such as Guntown and Ecru also is positive, Rumbarger said.
“Because Lee County is the heartbeat of the supplier base, it strengthens their industry to supply the North Mississippi region. The entire region is strengthened, not only through job creation, but through a boost to their tax bases for area schools and other auxiliary aspects of their economy,” he said.
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