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AHFA members learn to steer through industry's changes

LA JOLLA, Calif. - Industry executives attending the American Home Furnishings Alliance's annual meeting here this month at the Lodge at Torrey Pines were privy to a number of seminars focused on the event's theme, Navigating Our Changing Industry.
     In addition to an AHFA legislative report, attendees were given an update on the economy from Mark Vitner, senior economist at Wells Fargo Securities.
     Vitner told the group that even though we're two years into the economic recovery, there is still a considerable amount of uncertainty regarding sovereign debt issues in Europe, the federal budget deficit and the U.S. housing sector.
     "History shows us that recoveries from financial crises tend to be slow and protracted," he said. "The Great Recession has produced an enormous output gap that will take years to close."

Don DreherDon Dreher, left, DMI Furniture; Bill Perdue, AHFA; George Revington, Home Meridian International.Dwayne WelchDwayne Welch, left, Hickory Springs Mfg. Co.; John Bray, Vanguard Furniture; Don Coleman, Hickory Springs Mfg. Co.; Mark Vitner, Wells Fargo Securities.
Ralph ScozzafavaRalph Scozzafava, left, Furniture Brands International; and Kevin Sauder of Sauder Woodworking.Kurt DarrowKurt Darrow, left, La-Z-Boy; Ron Wanek, Ashley Furniture; Dennis Park, Leggett & Platt.
Doug CollierDoug Collier, left, La-ZBoy; Bruce Birnbach, American Leather.

     Discussing housing, Vitner said, "We believe housing starts have bottomed and will increase modestly through 2012 and will return to normal levels by 2015."
     William Kovacs, senior vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, discussed the growing number of regulatory issues while Rand Stage, the managing director of Stagen, talked about how companies can improve by moving from scrambling to scaling.
     In his presentation, Kovacs explained specific regulations facing the home furnishings sector, including the Boiler MACT, the federal Lacey Act govering wood origin, California Air Resources Board regulations and others. He added that the furniture industry has suffered an economic body blow due to what he described as "EPA overkill and other factors."
     Specifically, he said that as a result, North Carolina alone lost one-third of its workers in the home furnishings industry from 1996 to 2006.
     "And those job losses in the furniture industry have added to losses in neighboring and related industries such as timber, construction and other manufacturing sectors," Kovacs said.
     Larry Sabato, a director at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, shared a presentation on politics and his thoughts on 2012.

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