State and national economies are gradually improving, but furniture companies continue to announce layoffs despite an ongoing effort to stem imports from China. The trend continued last week when Hooker Furniture Corp. announced it would close a plant in Maiden near Hickory in North Carolina. The move will cost 240 workers their jobs when the shutdown is completed this fall. The number of American workers in furniture and related products dropped 14 percent from January to July. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says furniture employment fell more in North Carolina by 27 percent. Copyright 2004 by the Associated Press.