NC furniture plant, praised by Obama, closes

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A year after President Barack Obama welcomed the CEO of a North Carolina furniture company to the White House as a demonstration of investment in the U.S. economy, the Lincolnton Furniture Company announced its closing.

CEO Bruce Cochrane confirmed to Charlotte’s WBTV Thursday that the company would shut its doors immediately, laying off 50 employee in the process.

Cochrane — whose family sold their furniture business when they could not compete with foreign manufacturers in the mid-1990s — opened the plant in 2011 and was heralded by President Obama during his “Insourcing American Jobs” forum at the White House last January.

“But in 1996, as jobs began shifting to Asia, the family sold their business, and Bruce spent time in China and Vietnam as a consultant for American furniture makers,” Obama said. “But while he was there, he noticed something he didn’t expect: their consumers actually wanted to buy things made in America. So he came home and started a new company, Lincolnton Furniture, which operates out of the old family factories.”

“I want us to be known for making and selling products all over the world stamped with three proud words: ‘Made in America.’ And we can make that happen,” he added.

Cochrane was also a guest in first lady Michelle Obama’s box during the president’s 2012 State of the Union Address. And in November, North Carolina Democratic Gov. Bev Purdue honored the company with an award for excellence in workforce development.

The CEO told WBTV that telling his employees about the closing was difficult.

“We had a great place to work and people enjoyed working there,” Cochrane said. “Many of the people who worked there had worked for me before.”

The company’s financial officer Ben Causey told The Charlotte Observer that only a few employees will stay on “evaluate the situation” and that the closure was largely due to a dearth of orders.

“We needed more orders is really what it boiled down to,” Causey said. “We thought they would materialize.”

While Cochrane is trying to figure out what to do next, he explained to WSOC that he remains proud about what the company accomplished.

“The opportunity we had to do what we’ve done to accomplish the building of an incredibly stellar, state-of-the-art manufacturing facility,” he said. “We had a great family atmosphere; we did a lot of things right about being a good employer and treating our employees well. We can always look at that and be proud of it.”

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