State, UNC, ECU purchase expensive furniture from out-of-state maker

RALEIGH – North Carolina has often been considered as the furniture capital of the world, with distinctive markets in Hickory, High Point, and Thomasville filled with a multitude of furniture factories and stores. It’s a typical sight to see consumers drive hours to those communities to purchase factory-direct furniture at relatively low prices.

Consumers are looking for the best value for their money. The same cannot be said of state university personnel who chose to spend taxpayer money on custom made furniture instead of opting to save taxpayer money on commercial furniture.

Officials at East Carolina University, North Carolina State University, and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill have purchased high-end, expensive, custom made furniture from Thomas Moser Cabinetmakers, a furniture company based in Auburn, Maine.

According to the Thomas Moser Web site, each of the schools purchased the furniture for its libraries and other uses. At ECU, the custom made furniture can be found at Joyner Library and the North Carolina Collection. North Carolina State purchased items for the D.H. Hill Library, while UNC-Chapel Hill has the custom made items in the R.B. House Undergraduate Library.

ECU and UNC-Chapel Hill did not respond to a request seeking public information regarding the purchases. North Carolina State did.

The information shows that North Carolina State has spent more than $16,000 with the Moser furniture company since 2003. Four different purchases were made during that time, the most expensive being in July of 2004 when the school spent $8,025 on furniture items from the company. NCSU also purchased $4,155 in furniture in June of 2004 and $3,836 in April of 2004. NCSU’s invoices do not list the exact furniture item that was purchased, but a photo taken of one chair looks the same as a chair shown in the Moser catalogue that costs in excess of $3,000.

When furniture is so readily available in North Carolina, why would some of the state’s public higher education institutions decide to purchase from a company in Maine?

It couldn’t really be a desire for economy. A search of some of the furniture companies in North Carolina shows that similar office or conference room chairs are available at far lower prices.

University officials easily could have saved thousands of dollars by purchasing items from in-state vendors or national furniture suppliers that offer furniture at competitive prices. For instance, Staples offers an attractive, functional arm chair for $534. They’re not custom made pieces, but we’re talking about libraries in state universities, not Donald Trump’s boardroom.

Certainly, there is enough of a supply of furniture manufacturers and dealers in North Carolina to meet the demands for furniture for any state funded college and universities as well as the state’s private institutions.

It shouldn’t be too much to ask of ECU, North Carolina State and UNC-Chapel Hill to purchase furniture from North Carolina firms that would charge less than out-of-state companies. These companies pay taxes in North Carolina, which ultimately help subsidize each of these schools. If purchasing out-of-state would save money, that would be one thing, but in this case, it just takes more tax dollars to fulfill the furniture needs of these institutions.

Why did no one in authority question the exuberance of the spending on what amounts to a luxury item in a library? Custom-made, high-end furniture won’t improve student learning one bit. Such extravagant purchases are in line with a regrettable trend toward providing all the bells and whistles in the idea that the way to compete for students is to give them endless creature comforts and amenities. The only result is to make higher education more costly.

Government officials, including those who run the state universities, need to keep in mind the fact that they are charged with the duty of making the best use of taxpayer money and all other funds entrusted to them. They ought to pinch each penny, not squander thousands of dollars on luxury items.

So why aren’t they more prudent in their spending decisions?

The answer to that is simple: No one spends other people’s money as carefully as he spends his own.

Shannon Blosser ( is a staff writer with the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in Chapel Hill.