Last month, the parent company of Lane Furniture Industries stunned the employees at Lane’s Saltillo plant, announcing it would be closed by March 21. Heritage Home Group said “business circumstances” forced it to make the decision.
The decision meant 480 people would be laid off.
Many of them are looking for jobs, and on Wednesday, a job fair at Itawamba Community College’s Belden campus provided hope for some of them. About a dozen companies, including several furniture manufacturers, attended.
“I worked at Lane for 28 1/2 years – it’s all I’ve ever known,” said Gladys Clark. “It’s harder to get a job when you’re older, but I’m going to get a job wherever I can find it.”
Clark, like most of her colleagues at Lane, thought they had been given s second chance when private equity firm KPS Capital bought the assets of the former Furniture Brands International, which had gone bankrupt. The company said late last year that it would offer jobs to most of the 4,000 employees of Furniture Brands, whose companies included Lane, Broyhill, Thomasville, Drexel Heritage and others.
So the announcement in January that Lane’s Saltillo plant would close caught many, including Clark, off guard.
“It was a slap in the face,” she said. “Some were transferred to Belden, and I thought I’d go, but I wasn’t. My last day was Feb. 13.”
Corrie Johnson is a 10-year veteran of Lane. He, too, is looking for a job to support his family.
“I thought we were going to be OK. … now I’m looking for anything. I’ve got kids,” he said. “I can’t afford to be unemployed, and I’ve got to get to work.”
But, he added, “I’ve had enough of furniture – anything but furniture.”
Among the companies looking to hire at the job fair were Toyota Motor Manufacturing Mississippi, Toyota Boshoku, Winchester, some staffing agencies and several furniture manufacturers, including Ashley, United Furniture, Southern Motion and H.M. Richards.
“We’re adding a frame mill, and we’re hoping to have it operating by July or August,” said H.M. Richards HR director Brad Boyd. “This is a chance to hire some good people … Lane has been one of the premier employers in our area because of its people, and we’re happy to be here to offer some opportunities.”
Before the job fair opened, representatives of the Mississippi Department of Employment Security offered “rapid response” services, which included helps with jobless benefits info, training information, resume writing assistance and other services to help the displaced workers.
Officials met with about 130 people at Lane’s Saltillo plant on Tuesday, and met with more than 100 more at ICC-Belden on Wednesday.