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Checking In On North Carolina’s Furniture Industry

Lisa Worf

Most furniture manufacturing jobs in the state have disappeared, but not for upholsters. They are in high demand - and there’s a shortage of those workers. We talk about that economic opportunity.

American manufacturing has been in decline for decades. It’s a story that has hit close to home in North Carolina where our furniture industry was once highly-acclaimed, but now seems all but dead. Production has largely gone overseas, jobs that used to be done by factory works have been replaced by machines, and the influx of foreign imports has hurt the industry.

But there’s a good news story in all of this - upholstery is on the rebound. It’s a job that requires highly-skilled workers and a lot of the work is custom-made, something not feasible and too expensive to do overseas. Trying to keep up with demand, furniture makers in North Carolina have been dealing with a shortage of upholsterers, but they have come up with a fix that’s really taking off.

Several local companies came together with the community college system to develop a program to train workers to help plug the shortage. The result is the Furniture Academy at Catawba Valley Community College. Its training program has been so popular, it now has a waiting list.

We’ll check in on North Carolina’s furniture industry, discuss the importance of workforce development and hear about a bright spot in an industry that’s been declining.


Jerry Epperson - Investment analyst; managing director of Mann, Armistead & Epperson, Ltd., an investment banking and research firm that specializes in furniture

Lori Price - Director of Business & Industry Services at Catawba Valley Community College (CVCC). She manages the Furniture Academies.

Bill McBrayer - Human Resource Manager at Lexington Home Brands, one of the founding partners of CVCC’s Furniture Academy. He’s also a member of the North Carolina State Board of Community Colleges.

John Bray - CEO of Vanguard Furniture, one of the founding partners of CVCC’s Furniture Academy.

Related reading:

WFAE: Demand For Upholsterers Drives CVCC Furniture Academy
"An aging workforce and a younger generation reluctant to enter an industry known for layoffs led to stiff competition for workers. That forced local companies to sit down together and figure things out."

Hickory Daily Record: Industry rests on Furniture Academy's growth to fill aging workforce
"As means of filling out the massive void in employment, local companies, organizations and schools have all rallied around Catawba Valley Community College’s Furniture Academy (CVFA) to bring and retain a younger generation of workers to the area."

Reuters: Away From Spotlight, US Manufacturers Battle Back from 'China Shock'
"The U.S. economy lost almost a third of its manufacturing jobs from 2000 to 2010 and the Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump's pledge to get tough with China and rip up trade pacts to "bring jobs back" has resonated among millions of blue-collar voters. Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, as well, has shifted her position on trade."