To be competitive in the wood products industry, companies must stay on the cutting edge. But to get to the forefront, wood products companies must invest in their production facilities to increase automation and efficiency, and to lower manufacturing costs, experts say.

“It’s a competitive market,” said Jon Anderson, president and publisher of Random Lengths, a wood products industry trade publication based in Eugene. “Unless people are investing in their plants, they’re going to fall behind and, ultimately, fall by the wayside probably in the tougher markets.”

In the past couple of years, Swanson Group in Springfield, Seneca Sawmill in Eugene, Weyerhaeuser in Eugene, and International Paper in Springfield have made major investments in their facilities totaling about $273 million. Such upgrades are part of a trend throughout the North American woods products industry, Anderson said. Wood products companies in the Pacific Northwest, Canada and the southern United States have improved their operations, he said.

The improvements can help firms capture market share during strong markets and allow them to stay afloat when the economy weakens. “It’s the more efficient, more productive producer that is going to survive the downturns,” Anderson said. “We’re not in a downturn now, but most of these operators have gone through ups and downs in their time, and they are going to get ready for the next one.”

Seneca Sawmill on Highway 99 in Eugene is nearing the end of a major facilities renovation, including the installation of new kilns, revamping its shipping and loading facility and expanding its log yard. Early this year, the company plans to upgrade its planer, the equipment that smooths lumber. By the time it’s finished, the firm will have spent $63 million on improving its operations.

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