Thomasville Furniture plans to hire more than 100 employees at its only remaining U.S. wooden furniture plant in Lenoir – a striking change in an industry that has shifted thousands of jobs overseas in recent years.
The increased cost of doing business in other countries – including rising labor costs, shipping costs and rising fuel prices – helped drive the decision, according to a company statement. President Ed Teplitz announced the move to employees last week.
Lenoir, about 70 miles northwest of Charlotte, is one of the state's traditional furniture-making centers. But the Caldwell County city has been battered by layoffs and plant closings in the past six years as companies moved production to lower-cost places such as Asia.
The Thomasville plant survived by taking on more contract work for the government and hospitality industry, while continuing to make a small amount of furniture sold in stores.
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Meanwhile, other local factories closed and sold their equipment – making it more difficult for them to resume production if the demand existed, said Alan Wood of the Caldwell County Economic Development Commission. Broyhill Furniture Industries, a Lenoir institution for more than a century, closed its last U.S. wooden furniture plant in early 2007. Both Broyhill and Thomasville are part of St. Louis-based Furniture Brands International.
Thomasville primarily makes bedroom furniture in Lenoir, as well as some occasional tables and entertainment centers, said Ann Vaughan, the plant's human resources manager. It will make more for the retail market as production ramps up, she said.
The plant off U.S. 321 is expected to employ about 800 by December, up from 700 now, which will allow it to increase production by one-third, the release said.
That's not full capacity, Vaughan said, so the plant will have room to grow; it's looking for new and experienced first- and second-shift employees.
Vaughan should have a large pool of potential workers: Caldwell County has lost about 6,000 furniture jobs this decade – about two-thirds the number it had in 2000 – and has experienced high unemployment. In that same period, North Carolina has lost more than 30,000 furniture jobs, down from more than 79,200.
Wooden furniture, or case goods, manufacturing has been particularly hard-hit. About 90 percent of Caldwell's case goods jobs have disappeared, and the county has not had a new case goods job announcement in at least five years, Wood estimated.
“We've (added) a lot of diversity,” he said. “But it's also nice to have the industry you've depended on for generations have some jobs growth, too.”