Woodworkers Attempt to Re-open Ethan Allen Shop

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(Host) The Ethan Allen furniture company laid off more than 200 people this week at two plants in Vermont. Yet despite the bad news, some of the company’s former workers hope to re-open a manufacturing plant in Island Pond.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) The recent Ethan Allen job cuts in Randolph and Orleans came almost a year after the company shut down its Island Pond furniture plant.

After the lay-offs last year, Island Pond workers got together to buy the closed plant. John Zeltsman is a business adviser hired by the workers. He says the workers hope to start make furniture sometime this fall. But not all 125 workers will be re-hired right away:

(Zeltsman) “The first thing is to get it open and running …. Let’s put it this way, it’s going to be difficult to start a plant employing the entire number of people right out of the gate. The objective really is to build a locally controlled sustainable business that has local impetus for making decisions as well as responding to customer needs.”

(Dillon) Zeltsman is working with a group called the Island Pond Woodworkers Alliance. The group got grant money to run feasibility studies on re-opening the plant. Zeltsman says the results look positive:

(Zeltsman) “We have identified potential partners that we are talking to in terms of actually designing and marketing product. We are convinced that the woodworking industry can exist in niche markets in this country and that the Island Pond folks have a good shot at starting a new business.”

(Dillon) After Ethan Allen shut its Island Pond plant last year, workers later discovered it had moved some jobs to China. Zeltsman says that trend will continue:

(Zeltsman) “The reality is that large retailers who move large volumes of furniture are going to be sourcing offshore. That’s just reality. Right now, I think China … surpassed Canada as being the major source of imports for wood furniture…. So yeah, the large retailers are clearly going to be moving toward an outsourcing strategy.”

(Dillon) Ethan Allen now has 17 manufacturing plants in the United States. The company recently told state officials that that it hopes to avoid future lay offs at its remaining operations in Randolph and Beechers Falls.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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