Mississippi State's Franklin Furniture Institute is joining with state and federal agencies to form the Export Resource Service.
Established recently to increase the overseas sale of Mississippi furniture products, ERS is a collaboration among the university, Mississippi Development Authority's International Trade Office and U.S. Department of Commerce's Mississippi Export Assistance Center.
Franklin Institute director Bill Martin said the goal is to provide a clearinghouse for trade opportunities between potential foreign customers and domestic manufacturers. The center also will provide furniture-related export information and resources, as well as individualized training programs for interested businesses, he added.
"Since furniture manufacturers throughout the state are caught up in the national economic struggle, now would seem to be the perfect time for them to begin developing export sale opportunities," Martin said.
Specific ERS missions include the identification of furniture-related leads in the various countries and helping Mississippi exporters obtain the critical information necessary to begin selling in those markets. Other details about ERS may be viewed at www.ffi.msstate.edu/export.
The dramatic downturn in the U.S. economy, tightening of consumer credit and flood of low-priced foreign products are among major factors causing decreases in domestic furniture sales. This is especially true in the upholstered household furniture category.
"It is difficult for our state manufacturers to compete with foreign competitors who pay such low wages as China and Vietnam do," observed trade specialist Glenn Fererri of the Mississippi Export Assistance Center. "These countries pay workers 98 cents an hour versus an average of more than $18 an hour for U.S. furniture production workers."
He added: "But, given the prestige of U.S. made products, we can compete with foreign producers in quality and design."
Martin said furniture manufacturing currently contributes to Mississippi nearly $6 billion in total industrial output, and ranks second in manufacturing employment with approximately 175 companies and 24,000 employees.
"While Mississippi is a national leader in the production of upholstered furniture, the state ranks 11th in exporting furniture," he noted.
In 2007, domestic furniture and related products totaling $3.9 billion were exported primarily to Canada, China, Japan, Mexico, and the United Kingdom. Mississippi's share of the international market was only 3 percent, according to Martin.
In comparison, furniture and related products' imported to the U.S. that same year totaled $27.6 billion--with China accounting for more than 50 percent of the total. A Commerce Department report has identified "increasing imports" as the biggest long-term challenge facing the American furniture industry.
"Clearly, this is an area in which we can, and must, improve for the long-term growth and survival of state furniture companies," said Martin.
"By combining the resources and expertise of our Franklin Furniture Institute with those of the Mississippi Development Authority and U.S. Commerce Department, chances for export successes are multiplied greatly," he said.