features
#039 / 2002

editorial

BC behind

With Statistics Canada's upgrade to the NAICS standard, data about BC's household furniture industry that had been "secret" for several years is now available to the public (see issue #038). Unfortunately, the new data about BC is not promising, showing that growth in shipments during 1990 to 1999 was only 6.2% (see graph below). Growth for other provinces was as high as 69 percent (Ontario). When the inflation rate is factored in, household and institutional furniture manufacturing in BC actually declined.

Furniture Shipment Statistics Chart

Percent Increase in Household and Institutional Furniture Shipments

furniturelink has published numerous articles over the past five years deploring the lack of design-driven solutions in BCs "value-added" wood programs (see footnote). Instead, the government chose to spend millions of dollars on projects that perpetuate the production of generic "commodity" furniture - furniture that fewer and fewer people are buying, according to Stats Can.

Beyond the declining "pine clone" and "funky log" furniture sector, there is some good news about the success of companies with innovative designs and knowledge of world markets (see issue #029). Individuals running these companies understand the importance of design and the appropriate use of materials and technology. They manufacture furniture using a combination of metal, plastic, textiles, veneer, panels, etc., and rarely rely exclusively on solid wood.

The furniture industry worldwide has changed over the past decade - production machinery is largely computer-controlled; environmental standards have been introduced for materials and finishes; quality has risen and designs are more sophisticated for a more knowledgeable consumer. The competition inherent in the globalization of manufacturing makes it increasingly difficult for any jurisdiction to develop new industries. BC has some unique advantages - accessibility to materials, energy and markets - that, when combined with innovative design, should offset the negative aspects of globalization.

Not in BC's interest, though, is the forest-products mindset, which doesn't support innovation in most of the institutions responsible for "value-added" programs. The lack of design expertise in these institutions is compounded by their inability to recognize the basic problems. For example, though the Statistics Canada data reproduced here is widely available, BC Wood (a recipient of millions of dollars through FRBC) states in a November 2001 press release that the BC furniture industry is "A fast growing sector . . . ."

It is clear that the government has to develop more cost-effective ways to support BC furniture manufacturing. In February 1999, a group of design-based furniture manufacturers met with the deputy minister from the ministry of small business, tourism and culture to present a brief that outlined various solutions. One key proposal was that the responsibility for the development of the furniture manufacturing sector be moved from the forestry ministry to the industry ministry. Unfortunately, the group's efforts made no impact then.

Now, the new administration has the opportunity to make positive changes for an industry that can only survive through innovative design and technology. Otherwise, if the decades-old mismanagement and commodity wood product mentality are allowed to continue, BC's furniture manufacturing sector will continue to lag behind.

Note: This article was modified on May 22, 2003, to reflect Statistics Canada methodological changes for 33712 data collection that were introduced with the 2000 reference year.)

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