This article was published in the Lenoir News-Topic.
Forty presidents and chief executive officers of furniture companies have sent a letter to leaders in the General Assembly warning of potentially dire economic effects of cutting funding for the High Point Market Authority.
Gov. Pat McCrory’s proposed 2013-15 budget calls for cutting the state’s funding from this year’s $1.65 million to $800,000 by the middle of 2014, and then eliminating it in subsequent years. McCrory’s office was not immediately available for comment on the letter.
“The reason many of our companies have placed our headquarters, distribution centers and factories in North Carolina is directly related to the success of the High Point Market and North Carolina’s status as our industry’s epicenter,” the letter says. “Because the housing industry is finally healing, our industry’s immediate future looks bright. A vibrant High Point Market increases the chances that new furniture industry jobs will be created in our State, and not elsewhere.”
The letter calls for restoring funding to its fiscal 2010 level of $2 million. Those signing the letter to House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, which was released this morning, included top officials at several companies with ties to Lenoir, including Bernhardt Furniture president and CEO Alex Bernhardt Jr., Broyhill Furniture president Mark Stephens, Thomasville Furniture president Ed Teplitz and Fairfield Chair president Mark Craven.
Cuts to the market authority, which holds the industry’s premier trade show, would be devastating to the furniture industry in North Carolina, said Doug Bassett, chairman of the High Point Market Authority and president of Vaughan-Bassett Furniture.
“It would be a bad thing, not only for the High Point Market but for the furniture industry across North Carolina,” Bassett said. “I believe as chairman of the High Point Market Authority that it would be very foolish for the state to walk away.”
Each of the two annual High Point Furniture Market’s shows draws about 80,000 people. The hotels, rental cars and restaurant meals those 80,000 people need translates to about $40 million a year in state tax revenue, Bassett said.
“That part of it is like having two Super Bowls come to our state twice a year,” he said.
But take away a third of its funding, and the market may not be as desirable for companies or consumers, he said.
Disappointed customers and exhibitors may jump to a rival furniture market such as the ones in Las Vegas and Tupelo, Miss. As a result, furniture manufacturers might be less inclined to locate facilities in North Carolina, said Bassett, whose Vaughan-Bassett Furniture operates a distribution center in Elkin.
“The reason companies like mine and all those in the Lenoir area are based where they are is because so many of our customers come into our backyard twice a year,” Bassett said. “If the largest furniture market were in Missouri or California, we would probably look there to put our next factories, or our next expansion.”
The letter Bassett and other industry leaders signed is addressed to the leaders of the General Assembly because McCrory’s budget isn’t the final word, he said. The House and Senate will develop their own prospective budgets.
The market currently receives its funding – split roughly in thirds – from the state, the City of High Point and other local bodies, and the market itself. The state portion covers the cost of public transportation at the market.