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Market tries to cushion the fall

It’s no surprise that High Point Market President Brian Casey wants to put the best face on the city’s fall furniture show. But he’s also a realist. “People came in with low expectations, and I think it exceeded them. Attendance was a little softer this year, but activity was pretty brisk. It was a very good market overall.”

That participants had low expectations for the market, which backers say contributes more than $1.1 billion to the state’s economy, is putting it mildly. Given the credit crunch and the real-estate slowdown, the furniture industry isn’t exactly thriving. Orders were down 10% through July compared with the first seven months of 2007, according to High Point-based furniture consultant Smith Leonard PLLC. Not a good lead-in for this year’s fall market, which ran from Oct. 20-26.

Sure enough, only 76,403 registered for the market, down about 9% from last year’s event. Despite the lower numbers, Casey says, “Attendance at many of the seminars was robust, and some were sellouts.” The same held true, he says, for the market’s entertainment, which included performances by Peter Frampton and KC and the Sunshine Band. “They turned some people away.”

It wasn’t all seminars and concerts. Some buyers, including a contingent from Jordan, were active, he says. “Some companies said it was one of their best markets for sales.”

Not everyone was buying, he acknowledges, but — ever the promoter — he maintains that even those attendees benefited from the market. “They see product introductions that they may not be in position to buy now, but they’re actually learning about them. They’re putting themselves at a competitive advantage against the folks that don’t attend.”

Even so, some exhibitors shut down early or altogether on the twice-yearly market’s final day, a Sunday. “You never like to see that. I’m surprised that people do that with the investment they have and the possibility to make more transactions.” That could change this spring, when the market shifts to a Saturday-Thursday schedule.

One scheduling move Casey is not worried about is the Las Vegas furniture market’s decision to move its July event to mid-September, about a month before the High Point Market. “I’m not sure I truly understand the business reasons behind it. It probably is doing the industry a disservice. Both buyers and exhibitors were upset by it. I really don’t see it impacting High Point at all.”

GREENSBORONewBridge Bancorp suspended its quarterly dividend of 5 cents a share and applied for $52 million in capital from the federal financial-services bailout program to help it weather the economic downturn. It cut its dividend from 17 cents per share earlier this year.

HIGH POINTThomas Built Buses laid off 205 workers because of slow sales. The bus maker employs nearly 1,000 at four plants here.

MEBANE — Sweden-based Sandvik plans to add 51 jobs within three years at its cutting-tool plant. That will bring employment to more than 210.

WINSTON-SALEMKrispy Kreme Doughnuts reached an agreement with KKD Lotte Holdings to open 35 stores in three of China’s largest cities — Shanghai, Beijing and Tianjin — in the next five years. Seoul-based Lotte is the company’s franchisee in South Korea and Japan.

WINSTON-SALEMTriad Guaranty named Chief Financial Officer Kenneth Jones, 50, as its president and CEO. Jones, who will keep the CFO title, succeeds William Ratliff, 55, who will remain chairman of the mortgage insurer.

LEXINGTONTelWorx Communications, which refurbishes telecommunications equipment, wants Davidson County commissioners to pitch in $31,000 to help it move from Lexington to the northern part of the county. It has about 20 employees and plans to add 35 during the next three years.

WINSTON-SALEMBB&T Chief Financial Officer Chris Henson, 47, will become chief operating officer Jan. 1, succeeding Kelly King, 60, who will become CEO. Assistant CFO Daryl Bible, 47, will replace Henson as CFO.

GREENSBORO — New York-based American Express says an unspecified — but small — number of 7,000 job cuts worldwide will come from its call center here, which employs about 2,300. It wants to cut costs by $1.8 billion next year.