Statistics Canada figures (1) for 1994-97 show that wooden household furniture shipments from BC manufacturers have not kept pace with other provinces (see graphs). Ironically this period of time parallels the creation of Forest Renewal BC (FRBC), a government agency mandated to promote "value-added" wood product development in the province.
From 1994 to 1997, Canadian wooden furniture shipments increased 32 percent, Quebec 22 percent, and British Columbia only 8 percent (figures for 1998 appear to show an encouraging increase for BC and continued strong showings for Canada and Quebec).
The slump in the 1990-93 figures reflects the consequences of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and the 1990-91 business recession which effectively halved the number of manufacturers nationwide and cut the work force by a third. Quebec with a similar industrial make-up to BC - a few large plants and many smaller family-owned companies - has shown that "restructuring" can be survived and is dramatically increasing domestic sales and exports.
The stagnation in the BC furniture industry when other provinces are booming is a serious concern that needs to be addressed. The Statistics Canada figures indicate FRBC programs and policies have not adequately addressed two problems that have historically hindered manufacturing development in BC - guaranteed access to economical, quality timber and sophisticated educational programs directed at the "cultural" changes required when moving from an economy dependent on "fallers and mill hands" to one supported by "designers and makers" (see issue #001 ).
Quebec policy makers have no problem understanding the need for change and offer support for design, creativity and promotion. Since 1994, Quebec has granted smaller furniture manufacturers a 40 percent tax credit to offset the costs of hiring furniture designers. The Quebec Furniture Manufacturers Association actively encourages furniture sales through a series of promotions including magazine and newspaper ads, TV programs and opinion polling.
Instead of facing the "catch-up" challenge (and perhaps taking a few hints from Quebec), the Vancouver Sun reported on August 14, 1998, that FRBC was reducing this year's value-added program budget from a target of $38.8 million to $22.5 million. This cost-cutting measure doesn't make a lot of sense while BC is lagging behind the rest of the country in furniture production.
(1) statistics and industry definitions
The wooden household furniture industry is defined by the Industrial Classification Code (SIC) as SIC 2611, a subset of SIC 261 which includes upholstered and other types of furniture. SIC 261 is itself a subset of SIC 26, the major industrial grouping "Furniture and Fixture Industries."
The dotted graph lines are estimated data for SIC 2611 based on SIC 26/261 data because recent SIC 2611 figures for BC are not available. Support for the data shown can also be found in the Price Waterhouse report "The Forest Industry in British Columbia 1997." It notes the last four years have only produced an increase in value-added wood product industry employment from 12,500 to 13,000 using a definition of wood product industry much broader than SIC 2611.
© furniturelink 1998 (text and images)