STARKVILLE, Miss.--Education and workforce development are the keys to growing furniture-manufacturing jobs in Mississippi, Gov. Phil Bryant told a Mississippi State audience Wednesday [March 27].
The state chief executive was featured speaker for the university's third annual Manufacturing Summit. More than 100 national and state furniture and manufacturing representatives, along with federal, state and local government officials at the Franklin Furniture Institute event, heard Bryant explain his vision for economic development in Magnolia State manufacturing.
"I just would not accept, nor will I ever accept, that the furniture industry is going to go away," Bryant said.
"We're not dead," he added, borrowing a line from Mark Twain to emphasize that "the discussion about our early demise has been greatly exaggerated.
"We are not about to go away; in fact, we're going to grow," he continued. Bryant cited a recent Commerce Department report showing "our exports in Mississippi are growing by a billion dollars."
His presentation also stressed the importance of education and workforce development as state furniture manufacturing and other industries seek new employees with the required skill. He also addressed Mississippi's successful "re-shore" efforts to return jobs from overseas.
Bryant thanked MSU President Mark E. Keenum for applying his business knowledge as a university leader and for encouraging departments, especially summit sponsor Franklin Furniture Institute, to apply research and development initiatives with manufacturers and workforce development.
In his response, Keenum praised Bryant for his efforts to promote education and economic development, especially as relates to furniture manufacturing.
"(Bryant) has fought tirelessly for job creation, economic development and growth here in the state," Keenun said. "He is a champion for enhancing education, educational opportunities for all our children, from a state pre-K all the way to our university system."
In addition to Bryant, several other government officials presented a panel presentation, "How Collaboration between the Private Sector and Federal Agencies Can Accelerate Manufacturing Growth in the Mississippi Furniture Cluster."
Other speakers at the daylong event included, among others:
--Matt Erksine, acting assistant secretary for economic development, U.S. Department of Commerce; Doug O'Brien, deputy undersecretary for rural development, U.S. Department of Agriculture; Earl Gohl, federal co-chairman, Appalachian Regional Commission; David Rumbarger, president and CEO, Community Development Foundation in Tupelo; and Chris Masingill, federal co-chairman, Delta Regional Authority.
Their remarks focused on the importance of federal collaborations with schools and industries to ensure workers are getting the training they need.
--State furniture manufacturing leaders addressing the audience included MSU alumnus and major benefactor Hassell Franklin of Okolona, CEO and chairman, Franklin Corp. in Houston (Miss.). Others included Bruno Policicchio, COO, Max Home Furniture in Fulton; and William "Skipper" Holliman--also an MSU alumnus--president, HomeStretch Furniture in Nettleton.
The state furniture manufacturing executives discussed the importance of a workforce with reliable, diligent work ethics, as well as the importance of federal state and local education initiatives and workforce training efforts can provide worker training.
In a separate presentation, Bill Renick, Workforce Investment area director for Pontotoc-based Three Rivers Planning and Development District, detailed his office's efforts to provide specific education and training for individual companies. He also encouraged all in attendance to continue working together to create solutions necessary to expand furniture manufacturing throughout the state.
Created through a major gift from Hassell Franklin, MSU's Franklin Furniture Institute works to sustain the state furniture industry in Mississippi through regular educational workshops and seminars.
Director Bill Martin said the institute's mission is to continually provide furniture leaders and employees with the latest research and developments on issues important to them.
Martin said the 2013 year's summit was made possible through a $1 million grant, titled "Accelerating Jobs and Innovation through Community and Economic Development in Rural Mississippi," provided by the Economic Development Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Clarksdale-based Delta Regional Authority and Appalachian Regional Commission.
Other sponsors summit included CertiPur-US, American Home Furnishings Alliance, Franklin Furniture Institute, Mississippi Manufacturers Association, and Jobs and Innovation Accelerator.
In addition to the Franklin Institute, the grant also supports four other MSU outreach and research centers, including the Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems-Extension, National Strategic Planning and Analysis Research Center, Southern Rural Development Center, and Office of Entrepreneurship and Technology Transfer.
To learn more about the Franklin Furniture Institute, visit www.ifmm.msstate.edu/.