Furniture maker lands coveted spot at State of the Union

@CNNMoney January 24, 2012: 9:32 PM ET

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Bruce Cochrane relaunched his family's furniture company in Lincolnton, N.C., last year, because he wanted to create jobs for Americans instead of setting up shop in China to take advantage of the cheaper labor.

The move caught the eye of the White House and soon Cochrane was accepting an invitation to sit next to the First Lady during President Obama's State of the Union address on Tuesday.

"It is an honor," said Cochrane.

But Cochrane said his decision to start a manufacturing company in the United States has been full of challenges, and Obama needs to know that.

"There's plenty of people who want to do what I'm doing right now, but it doesn't take long for them to give up," said Cochrane. "They don't have access to capital. They can't borrow the money they need to bring jobs back to America."

Cochrane interrupted years of business consulting in Asia to reopen a furniture factory his family once owned in the Smokey Mountains. But acquiring capital became a nightmare. He said dozens of banks turned him away and few deep-pocketed investors could be found.

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He eventually hit pay dirt, by getting a $3.3 million equipment loan from a community bank and close to $1.5 million in funds from a small group of investors and business partners. He opened in February. Still, he couldn't pay his workers until July. And the need for work in this small city of 10,486 just outside Charlotte was extreme. Cochrane said 1,300 people applied for his company's 130 jobs.

Cochrane, 59, faults a banking system that is too hesitant when it comes to lending to small business.

"I'd like for him to say, 'Look, we've got to get common sense back into banking again.' There's no common sense in banking anymore. I don't know what the best approach would be. We had a mortgage debacle that begged for regulation. But what was done is not working," he said before the speech.

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Cochrane said he supports the president's recently announced plan to seek Congressional permission to consolidate several departments, including the Small Business Administration.

Cochrane knows first hand how important jobs are to stricken towns like Lincolnton. When he first opened the factory, he offered a jobless father a position there. The man "started crying in front of me," said Cochrane. "And it was pretty emotional."

And during the summer, he said workers cheered when the first piece of furniture - a solid cherry nightstand with three drawers and smooth English dovetail joints - rolled off the line. To top of page

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