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Wood furniture sector started the year on the right foot, exports continue to grow

by Giovanna Mancini

The year 2017 has started on the right foot for the Italian wood and furniture sector: a galaxy of more than 79,000 companies spread out across the whole country, providing work for 320,000 people. In 2016, the sector generated revenues of about €41 billion, up 2.2% compared to 2015, the first report from industry association FederlegnoArredo (FLA) showed, as it was presented yesterday in Milan.

Exports are a driving factor

The sector has resisted the years of the economic crisis only thanks to robust exports, which confirmed their strength also in the first quarter of this year.

According to the report by FLA’s research center, the sector’s sales abroad increased 5% in January-March compared to the same period of 2016. It is interesting to note that the increase in exports of the whole sector is higher than that of just the furniture segment, where exports were up 4.2%.

The recovery in Russia was significant (even though the confirmation of sanctions could change the scenario again), alongside the consolidation of markets in China, the US, and France, the top end market for Italian products.

Innovation and employment

It is a sector that has known how to innovate also during the years of crisis and that thanks to this attitude (shared by big players as well as small and medium sized companies), today it can say that the worst times are behind it. According to a survey among firms associated with FLA, more than 70% of companies in the sector invested in research and development in 2016, setting aside on average 1.3% of turnover for this. It is also thanks to these investments that today it is starting to hire again: “From now until 2020, we will have 24,000 additional work places,” underlined the president of FLA, Emanuele Orsini, which raises the fundamental question of training for young people. Companies are in fact looking for new figures, capable of facing the challenges of Industry 4.0.

The recovery of the domestic market and incentives

After the first, timid, positive signs recorded in 2015, 2016 saw a consolidation in the recovery of the internal market, which seems to have confirmed itself again in the first quarter of 2017: a survey of FLA associates revealed an average increase of 3% in domestic sales.

The main reason is the boost provided by the furniture bonus, a tax incentive introduced in June 2013 that, according to estimates, had generated €4.3 billion of revenues at end 2016.

The burden of the construction crisis

Difficulties have come above all from the construction sector, which today is registering some signs of recovery, after the collapse over the past 10 years.

“Between 2007 and 2016, construction permits fell from 249,000 to 40,000,” said Orsini, recalling however that at the same time, construction in wood progressively gained share, helped above all by growing attention to sustainable and anti-earthquake structures. In 2014 and 2015, the share of the market of wooden housing reached 6.4% of new constructions.