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Georgia Chair marks 100th year with Saudi Arabian deal
Gainesville company expects to create more than 100 jobs in US, more overseas
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Georgia Chair Co. recognized its longest-serving employees Friday with a rocker; from left are Andrea Crozier, Greg Kinsey, Donny Irvin, Brad Crain and Hugh Lee Bennett. The company is celebrating 100 years of business this year. - photo by Michelle Boaen Jameson

The company signed an agreement with Merjas Business Holding for rights to distribute furniture in Saudi Arabia. The agreement will create nearly 100 jobs in the U.S. and more than 150 jobs for women in Saudi Arabia.

“It’s a game-changer for this company,” said Kevin Hanville of Georgia Chair at Friday’s celebration of its anniversary and agreement.

The project includes building a furniture assembly and finishing a factory in Dammam, Saudi Arabia.

The unemployment rate for women in the country is 34 percent and climbing, according to the Department of Statistics and Information. The project will assist the Women’s Empowerment Movement, designed to improve the daily lives of women in Saudi Arabia.

“Just getting to work is a big deal,” Hanville said. “You give a woman a job there, you give them a freedom we cannot comprehend here. It is huge.”

Georgia Chair President Harry Bagwell said over the company’s 100 years, its employees watched seven wars, seven stock market crashes, 16 recessions and two depressions.

Hanville said the economic downturn in 2008 caused the company to seek new ways to stay successful.

“We started looking at how do we expand our markets, expand our products and what do we need to do differently?” Hanville said. “Because, quite frankly, in 2008 the world changed.”

The agreement with Merjas Business Holding is one of many ways Hanville said the company is moving forward. It will increase employment, manufacturing and renovations at the Gainesville facility on Industrial Boulevard.

By 2016, the company will export between 15 and 20 containers of raw furniture materials to Saudi Arabia, allowing the same quality of solid oak furniture abroad.

The company partnered with U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, international consulting firm US Global Connect and the American Business Association in Dammam to make the project possible.

The ABA works to identify and promote business ties between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. Mike McKinzie, ABA board member, was one of many present Friday to show support for the agreement and the company.

“A hundred years in business is truly something to be proud of,” McKinzie said. “... We will stand behind you and we will do what is necessary to make this successful in Saudi Arabia. You have our full and unmitigated support.”

Hanville said the quality and legacy of Georgia Chair Co. will allow it to continue to grow nationally and internationally.

“(Here) you see a portion of the United States and American culture that is rapidly disappearing, and that’s manufacturing jobs,” Hanville said. “We want to create a legacy here of more manufacturing jobs moving forward.”

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