By VIKKI BROUGHTON HODGES
Published: Saturday, October 16, 2010 at 7:32 p.m.
HIGH POINT | An initiative to recruit more home furnishings businesses to the Piedmont Triad was unveiled at a press conference Saturday, the opening day of the High Point Market.
Called the Global Exchange for Furnishings, the initiative by the Piedmont Triad Partnership, the 12-county economic development group that includes Davidson County, kicks off Tuesday with a seminar for domestic and international companies interested in getting more information on the concentration of resources and assets in the region – the skilled workforce, strategic location, educational institutions with specialized home furnishings programs, a concentration of home furnishings designers, specialized legal and banking companies that have long worked with the furniture industry as well as the headquarters of many manufacturers and related trade associations.
Lexington artist Bob Timberlake, whose licensed World of Bob Timberlake collection is made by Linwood Furniture in Davidson County, said he could vouch for the heritage of craftsmanship in the region as well as the work ethic of factory employees.
"I wouldn't be standing here today if not for the people in the plants," he said, noting that's why he didn't want his namesake collection made overseas.
Ken Smith of the Smith Leonard accounting firm in High Point also noted the vast human resources in the region, including everyone "from warehouse employees to executives."
Jim Melvin, chairman of the furnishings cluster at PTP, said the furnishings industry has been "the jewel in the crown" of the region and can continue to grow if promoted, just like other industry clusters identified by PTP, including logistics and distribution, nanotechnology and regenerative medicine.
"This regional effort is going to be fruitful for all of us," said Strib Boynton, city manager of High Point.
Brian Casey, president and CEO of the High Point Market Authority, said his group would work in tandem with PTP on the economic development initiative.
David Powell, PTP's new chief executive officer, said he wants to build on the international reputation of the High Point Market and long heritage of the furnishings industry in the region.
"We have a unique selling position – a unique collection of resources," he said.
Powell noted that, according to a 2008 High Point University study, there are about 4,000 businesses in the Piedmont Triad related to the furnishings industry, including not only residential home furnishings but also contract, hospitality and institutional furnishings, accessories, fabrics, floor coverings and wall coverings. Support resources include design, technology, photography, warehousing, logistics, marketing and other services.
Powell noted the furnishings and logistics and distribution clusters actually dovetail because many of the 100-plus trucking companies in the region are specialized furniture carriers. He said the convergence of the five interstate highways in the region is also a plus, putting shipments to 70 percent of the U.S. market within two days. The new FedEx hub at Piedmont Triad International offers air cargo services.
"We have a lot of strategic assets and we're going to be leveraging that," he said.
Powell said the Global Exchange for Furnishings will have an aggressive outreach program that will identify companies that should be locating in the region, from large companies to niche firms. He said services to be provided to prospective new businesses include regional intelligence, such as labor availability, tax structures and construction costs; site selection assistance to help companies find the best location for their business; government liaison services, such as identifying and providing introductions to local, regional and state officials; a database of local resources specific to the furnishings cluster; and ombudsman services.
Customized manufacturing, distribution centers, a broad range of furnishings industry suppliers and sales offices for international companies are among the likely recruitment prospects, Powell said.
The PTP chief said the group has already had good response to the Tuesday seminar and a new website, www.furnishingtheworld, should get the attention of interested businesses. PTP has also retained a consultant to work on the initiative, Al Bolton, a 40-year veteran of the furnishings industry, who will pursue identified business prospects and attend trade shows and conferences to meet with company representatives.
"A lot of people know High Point as the furniture capital of the world, but they think of it as an exhibition place, not as the best place for the furnishings industry supply chain," Bolton said. "We need to develop a better awareness of this initiative."
Bolton said the fastest-growing segments of the furnishings industry in the region now are sales offices for international companies and distribution centers. He said he will travel to western Europe, Canada, Singapore, China and other countries in addition to attending domestic trade shows to meet with companies in an expansion mode.
He said the domestic manufacturing that moved offshore several years ago isn't likely to return. But, for example, he said a foreign manufacturer that now produces only for their own domestic market might consider locating a distribution center here to expand their reach.
"It's exciting because we have a wealth of resources here that we've had for generations," he said. "It doesn't mean we're going to go back to the way it was but it could be the rebirth of furnishings in this area."
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