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Triad

FURNITURE MAKING MAY COME BACK – LITERALLY 

All three events occurred within a week. Asheboro-based Klaussner Furniture Industries said it was closing a plant in its hometown. Norfolk, Va.-based furniture importer Ison International announced it was moving to Thomasville. Chinese manufacturer Dream Rooms revealed it was shifting its American headquarters from Los Angeles to High Point. More evidence that, battered by foreign competition, the mighty Triad furniture industry was dwindling into warehouse and office jobs?

Maybe not. Klaussner, which will shed 130 jobs by the end of this month, blames the closing not on cheaper foreign goods but on the woes of two of its largest customers, retailers Sofa Express and Levitz Furniture. And while the region’s boosters welcome Ison International, which will hire at least 25 in Thomasville, and American Dream Rooms, which will employ 40, they are not resigning themselves to recruiting only distribution centers. They claim furniture manufacturing is making a comeback. Steve Googe, executive director of the Davidson County Economic Development Commission, acknowledges that his county has lost about 5,000 furniture-making jobs since 2000. But he believes the tide is turning. “We’re working with a British company right now that makes high-end furniture and is looking to locate here. We’ve had several Chinese companies here looking for sites to build projects.”

The reason is simple, says Andrew Brod, director of UNC Greensboro’s Office of Business and Economic Research. “Thank you, weak dollar. We’ve been reading for some time about the weak dollar encouraging foreigners to be tourists in the U.S. But productive assets are also cheaper for foreigners when the dollar is weak.” Foreign manufacturers want to sell goods to American consumers, and that’s cheaper when they are made in the U.S. instead of imported. “You’ll take a big hit on the capital investment for the construction, so why not do that when the dollar is weak?”

Googe cites another factor. “We have a lot of lumber processors that were processing lumber for the furniture industry here. They never moved.” Some manufacturers pay to have lumber shipped to the offshore factories, then pay to have the finished product sent back to the U.S. “When oil prices were $40 a barrel, that made sense. Now, with prices more than $90 a barrel, it doesn’t make any sense.”

Loren Hill, president of High Point Economic Development Corp., confirmed that Chinese and European furniture makers are looking in the region. “We’ve not had any international manufacturers opening up yet, but we’re talking to them.” Brod is not surprised by renewed interest in domestic furniture manufacturing. “Particularly in case goods, the rush to Asia is slowing a bit. It’s not as easy to monitor the process, and any intellectual property that you might have is not as secure.”

BURLINGTON - GoldToeMoretz plans to close its factory here by the end of June, idling about 425, and expand production offshore. The Newton-based sock maker will still employ about 850 in North Carolina.

BURLINGTON - Medical tester Laboratory Corporation of America Holdings purchased Utah-based clinical researcher Tandem Labs. Terms were not disclosed. Tandem will become part of LabCorp’s clinical-trials group. The deal was expected to close in the first quarter.

WINSTON-SALEM - Krispy Kreme Doughnuts named James Morgan, 60, to replace Daryl Brewster as president and CEO. Morgan also will remain chairman. Brewster, 51, resigned, citing personal reasons. He had been CEO since March 2006. Morgan was chairman and chief investment officer of Covenant Capital, a Charlotte-based hedge fund.

GREENSBORO - RF Micro Devices, which makes power amplifiers for cell phones, plans to buy Filtronic Compound Semiconductors for about $24.8 million. The company, a subsidiary of United Kingdom-based Filtronic, is one of RF Micro’s sup- pliers. The deal was expected to close by the end of the month.

WINSTON-SALEM - Hanesbrands plans to close plants in Advance and Asheboro by the end of June, idling about 120. The plants make elastic fabric used in waistbands for women’s underwear. The apparel maker plans to outsource production. It will still employ about 6,700 in the state.

WINSTON-SALEM - Pace Airlines has begun adding about 70 employees at its heavy-maintenance base at Smith Reynolds Airport. The jobs, with annual salaries averaging $50,000, will bring the commuter airline’s employment to about 425.

MADISON - Gun and ammunition maker Remington Arms bought North Haven, Conn.-based Marlin Firearms, which makes rifles and shotguns. The family-owned company also owns the Harrington and Richardson, New England Firearms and LC Smith brands. Terms were not disclosed.