Despite declining numbers over recent years, Barbados??? furniture industry still has tremendous potential.

In fact, Government has invested in that potential by throwing its support behind a six-week furniture fair under the name Portico: The Barbados Furniture & Interior Accessories Fair, at Building No. 8, Spring Garden Industrial Estate, St. Michael.

Speaking during the opening ceremony, Minister of Industry, International Business, Commerce and Small Business Development, Donville Inniss, said the time was right to harness and develop the potential to create a viable furniture industry with global marketing potential.

To achieve this, he noted, high-potential niches were identified in the areas of vintage and traditional furniture; custom-made, eco-friendly, and culturally-inspired furniture; outdoor-type furniture for indoors; and small, compact furniture better suited for today???s smaller living spaces.

Technological furniture with hidden wireless charging docks, USB charging ports and audio and video connectors; and multifunctional furniture items like beds that transform into work desks or chairs, or a coffee table that can serve as a storage shelf or a chair, were also being explored.

???It is clear that in spite of its mixed fortunes, there is a significant amount of unused potential within the furniture sector,??? he said.??Mr. Inniss told those present that local furniture exports had seen more than a 100 per cent increase, rising from $0.4 million at the end of 2013, to $0.6 million at the end of September this year.

Similarly, furniture import figures were showing a 17 per cent decline, with figures now standing at $29.9 million so far this year, compared with the $52.1 million recorded up to December last year.??However, the Minister noted that local producers were constrained by high capital and operating costs, and reduced demand.

It was these and other challenges, Mr. Inniss said, that led the Barbados Investment and Development Corporation to partner with the Barbados Manufacturers??? Association to provide the manufacturers with an avenue to showcase and retail locally produced items.

In addition, the City of Bridgetown Co-operative Credit Union Limited has also stepped forward to offer financing to members.

As a result, the six-week fair, which got under way on Monday, is aimed at promoting the talent of Barbadian manufacturers and artisans, and will see the work of longstanding and upcoming designers and manufacturers being stocked by Portico.

???What I will ask is that this project not be seen as the salvation and reincarnation of the furniture industry. This is merely one of the activities being deployed by stakeholders to breathe some life into our furniture industry,??? the Minister said.

He stressed that the goal of local producers and designers should be to transition towards higher value-added products and processes, through more intensive research and development efforts.

???It is hoped that with the initiatives in progress, the furniture industry will become a vibrant area of enterprise, which will not only bolster the flagging export earning capacity of the sector, but provide new job opportunities as well,??? he concluded.

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