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Coping: Down times at the sawmill

By Staff
HARD TIMES n W.L. Brown, manager of Hankins Lumber Co. in Quitman since 1972, has seen hard times in the timber industry. The last 15 months have been the worst, he said. Photo by Steve Swogetinsky/The Meridian Star
By Steve Swogetinsky/The Meridian Star
Feb. 11, 2001
In the timber industry, there are good times and down times.
W.L. Brown, the manager at Hankins Lumber Co. plant in Quitman since 1972, has guided his sawmill through both. The last 15 months have been bad, he says, probably the worst he has seen.
The economy, competition from around the world, and new non-wood building materials have weighted the timber business down to the point that some companies have closed for good while others have scaled back in an effort to survive.
The playing field is not level in the world timber market, he said.
Brown pointed out that in Canada, the government owns most of the timber and all but gives it to the companies as long as they make lumber and pulp, and provide jobs.
An agreement between the U.S. and Canada has limited how much Canadian timber is allowed to come into the U.S., but that agreement is due to expire at the end of March.
The U.S. is hoping to renegotiate the treaty and further limit Canadian lumber imports. However, according to the Daily WoodWire, a timber industry Internet site, Brian Tobin, Canada's minister of industry, is pushing to have lumber added to the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Meanwhile, more imported timber has started coming into the country from Central and South America, and from Europe again, at lower prices.
It's all a matter of supply and demand.
The Asian countries used to be a major buyer of timber from the northwest section of the United States, as well as Canada. But Brown said that stopped a couple of years ago when the economies of the Asian rim went through a downturn. And now, the Asians are buying their timber from Europe.
Lumber is not the only wood product affected. Leon McKee, vice president of Forest Products for Molpus Forest Products, said the Asians used to buy U.S. chips and pulp.
Brown noted that before it closed, the International Paper plant in Mobile purchased large amounts of pulp and pine chips from East Mississippi.
You still see a lot of timber cutting this day, but McKee said a lot of that is timber that was already sold before the tough times hit.
One other threat to the American timber industry is the fact that many buildings, especially office, medical and businesses, are not being build with lumber today. Today in many cases, the studs are made of metal.
Brown and his workers have felt the crunch. Though it is now operating on a 10-hour day, the Hankins Lumber plant in Quitman was down for three weeks at Christmas. Before that, 45 employees were laid off and everyone was given a 90-day notice that the plant might be closed.
Steve Swogetinsky is regional editor of The Meridian Star. E-mail him at sswogetinsky@themeridianstar.com.

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