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Behind-the-Scenes Access to Burke County’s Furniture Companies

For Immediate Release

Behind-the-Scenes Access to Burke County’s Furniture Companies

BURKE COUNTY, N.C. (May 31, 2013) – The sound of stapler guns resonates through a large building as 25 students from the construction and masonry classes at Freedom High School walk through EJ Victor on a tour. The students gather around a work station to watch an employee insert springs into a chair. “How do you know the correct amount of tension?” Jonathan Clontz, Burke County Public Schools Director of Career and Technical Education, asks the employee. “Just from years of experience,” David Riddle replies. Clontz asks, “How long have you been doing this?” “35 years,” he says. “Do you see how much skill goes into this? Why these guys are such craftsmen?” someone asks the students. “It’s an art,” Riddle says. “But it’s a dying art.”


An employee at Geiger, located in Hildebran, shows a piece of a chair frame to students from East Burke High School.

He isn’t referring to the fact that the furniture industry is dying, but rather the knowledge and skill set that is required to make a beautiful, hand crafted piece of furniture is fading as only a small amount of young people enter the field. In fact, the furniture industry in Burke County is far from vanishing. The twenty some companies that are still here are growing and many people in furniture – owners and workers alike – say that furniture is coming back to our area at a higher rate than it has in many years. As the recession hit, Burke County lost many furniture companies like Henredon and Drexel Heritage; however, the numerous companies that have stayed have survived by making custom pieces and by making very high-end furniture. Companies that participated in the tours were: Adden Furniture, EJ Victor, Ekornes, Geiger, Shenandoah and Sherrill Furniture.

As students finish their tour at Ekornes and walk into the beautiful showroom, they have a seat on the leather sofas and recliners that are built by the Norwegian company, which opened its first US production facility here in Burke County in 2012. Throughout the tour students heard how Ekornes plans to expand in coming years. They might add on to their facility or buy a second one. They are thinking about adding a second shift. They just hired three employees and plan to grow the number of employees by an additional 25% by the end of the year. “Our furniture companies that have survived the recession and the new ones that have located here recently, like Ekornes, they are here to stay and have positive plans for growth,” says Randy Tallent, Ekornes Operations Manager. “I’ve been in furniture all my life and I don’t remember a time when there was more opportunity, automation and technology in this industry for people than there is right now,” Tallent added.

Students from Freedom High School gather around a cutting table as an Ekornes employee explains her job.

“We need dedicated people coming into furniture looking for positive careers. In the next 10 years there will be a gap in furniture management. We need some good people who are willing to come in and start at the bottom, but have the work ethic and drive to work their way to the top and become leaders. I would never discourage education, but for those not sure of their career path, I believe this industry provides positive opportunities that can compete with any industry.” In order to expose today’s high school students to these opportunities, Burke Development, Inc., in partnership with Burke County Public Schools, has conducted tours over the past two weeks for over 100 students to get a behind-the-scenes look at seven different furniture companies and the job opportunities that are available. One 28-year-old employee at Ekornes explained to the students that he enjoyed working in furniture and saw himself staying in the industry for the rest of his career. “If you don’t want to go to college and sit behind a desk all day, then this is really the best thing you can get into,” he said. Many of the students who took the tours will be given the unique opportunity to participate in a summer internship with a local furniture company. Through coordination with Burke County Public Schools, approximately 15 students will be chosen to work this summer at a furniture facility and gain experience and skills in an industry that still employees thousands of Burke County citizens. “With these tours we want to give the students awareness and exposure,” said Jonathan Clontz. “Furniture isn’t for everyone, it is hard work. But if they don’t want to leave the County they can make a good wage doing this and make a good life out of a career in furniture.” One of the students who jumped at the chance to participate in the internships expressed his interest in both the pay and the craftsmanship that goes into each piece of furniture, “I think it’s cool that you can work off production and get paid for how much you do because that seems really fair to me,” he said. “It’s cool because you can use your imagination and put your own design into it. You can make each piece your own.”

As the tour of EJ Victor’s Case Goods facility comes to an end, an employee stops us to ask what school the students are from and why they are touring. “They’re from Freedom High School and we’re trying to see if a few of them are interested in having a career in furniture.” “We don’t need just a few of them,” he says. “We need all of them.” About Burke Development, Inc. Burke Development, Inc. (BDI) is a nonprofit organization supported by private and public funding that is charged with accelerating economic growth in Burke County. BDI works with industry leaders, site selection consultants, government agencies and other entities to facilitate expansion strategies for existing businesses and recruit target industries to Burke County. For more information about BDI visit www.BurkeDevInc.com.


Contact: Sara Chester 828.674.3141

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