Ga. timber industry sees signs of improvement

6/15/2013 1:00 PM
By Associated Press

NUNEZ, Ga. (AP) — Hurt by the collapsing housing market, the timber industry in Georgia is showing signs of a potential rebound.

The state's $15 billion timber industry was punished during the Great Recession by a collapse in home prices and building. As building slows, so does the demand for timber. Forestry industry payrolls peaked at nearly 68,000 before the housing bust, fell to 43,425 afterward and then slowly started to rise.

"Wood use dropped 30 or 40 percent at the mills" around the South, Brooks Mendell, president of Forisk Consulting, told (http://bit.ly/1231neo ) The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "That is a massive number."

At the Interfor saw mill in Nunez, roughly 170 miles southeast of Atlanta, the roar of machines make earplugs necessary and conversation impossible. Logs are scraped of bark, scanned by computers and cut by robotic saws into boards.

During the recent recession, some of Georgia's mills closed and others, like Nunez, cut back their hours. Workers are still on reduced schedules.

"It's tough," said Rusty Moore, 43, a supervisor at the mill. "You have to feed your kids. You got to watch what you spend, buy only what you need. The new refrigerator, the new washer-dryer — they'll just have to wait till things pick up."

But the firm based in Vancouver, Canada, is looking to invest. It plans to spend $1.8 million on a new kiln at the Nunez plant and $2.8 million at another plant in Baxley. It is buying a plant in Thomaston and plans to add a second shift there.

"We are excited about the upturn," said Larry Dasher, Baxley-based general manager for Interfor operations. "It would take the pressure off us. You are pinching every penny you can."

The housing market is improving, which gradually boosts demand for wood. In metro Atlanta, the number of permits for single-family homes this year is modest, around 11,200, according to Metrostudy. That is far below the peak in 2005, but it is more than twice the low in 2009.

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Information from: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, http://www.ajc.com


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