#375. Furniture Manufacturer Brings Jobs Back Home

Posted on | The Agurban
Furniture Manufacturer Brings Jobs Back Home

Five generations of the Cochrane family had been in the furniture manufacturing business, but gave it up in 1996 as the U.S. industry tanked and jobs moved to Asia.

Bruce Cochrane then spent much of his time in China and Vietnam as a consultant for U.S. furniture makers. Over the years he noticed a shift: Wages rose for Chinese factory workers, and labor shortages cropped up because there aren’t enough people for all the jobs available.

Along with that came the increase in transportation costs and the Chinese demand for Western products.

Cochrane felt the time was right to bring furniture manufacturing jobs back to the United States. He formed Lincolnton Furniture in Lincolnton, NC, a new partnership that makes middle- to higher-priced solid wood bedroom and casual dining room furniture. The products will be turned out in a sprawling Lincolnton factory formerly occupied by Cochrane Furniture.

The state-of-the-art operation represents a $5 million investment and will eventually hire 175. The first orders were taken in October 2011. Production began in December, with a workforce sprinkled with former Cochrane Furniture employees. The first shipments of solid wood bedroom and dining room furniture took place in January 2012.

North Carolina has lost tens of thousands of furniture-making jobs over the past decade, mostly to Asian countries where labor is cheaper. The N.C. Commerce Department estimates the state now has 1,301 furniture companies employing 32,800 workers.

Furniture will be made in a 310,000-square-foot building that once housed Cochrane Furniture. In its heyday, the company did $86 million in sales.

“This is an exciting venture,” county commissioners Chairman Alex Patton said. “The Cochrane family was well thought of nationwide. Their company was known as being a good place to work. Bruce knows the market in China and is a wealth of knowledge. All the stars have lined up perfectly.”