Story by Rich Donnell,
Sometimes we use this space simply to pat ourselves on the back for what we put into the current issue of the magazine. This is one of those times. Talk about a mix of material!
The meat of this issue, stretching over pages 18 to 34, is the article on Mill Towns, written by co-publisher DK Knight. This piece took a tremendous amount of research, and even more challenging was condensing it, because it could easily have enlarged into book proportions. So if you know of a mill town that wasn’t included in the article, be informed that the article was never meant to include them all, but rather just a healthy sample.
You may remember the old movie, Paint Your Wagon, starring Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood, set in California, when worker gangs moved from one town to another, often building the town themselves, in pursuit of gold diggings. I suspect this same spirit pervaded many of the lumber mill towns and camps as they surfaced at a quick pace. The immense humanity that graced these grounds is something worth reflecting on.
- Great entrepreneurial spirit drove the creation of those mills and towns back in the day, but it’s not unlike the devotion that lumbermen today possess. A good example is our article on Southern Lumber of Hermanville, Miss. that begins on page 12. Chairman of the Board Floyd Sulser, Jr. is gung ho about the future of the mill operation, which just surpassed 30 years since his father, Floyd, Sr., and fellow lumberman Bill Dearman bought the mill from Masonite. I like Floyd, Jr.’s ever-so-succinct but encompassing comment about the importance of the team effort that saw the business through the recession and paves the way for the future. He said: “This is personal to all of us.”
- Speaking of Southern independent sawmills, you’re not paying attention if you haven’t noticed the influx of Canada-based forest products companies into the Southern U.S. to purchase southern pine lumber operations. A short news item in this issue reveals that the latest to be sold (at least as of this printing) is Georgia’s Tolleson Lumber, going to Interfor. You may have forgotten that Tolleson Lumber was purchased by Russian firm Ilim Timber three years ago. This makes six sawmills that Interfor has purchased in the state of Georgia alone in the past year—the Tolleson mills at Perry and Preston, Ga.; Rayonier mills at Baxley, Swainsboro and Eatonton; and Keadle Lumber at Thomaston.
Our sources (whom by the way have been very good at giving us a heads up on these deals about to come down) indicate more Canada-backed acquisition of southern pine producers is in the works.
- Also in this issue, a quick look at lumber markets reveals that they outperformed most analysts’ expectations in 2013, and now the question for 2014 is whether mills will see a continuation of quickly improving markets or a slow-but-steady trend. So far, lumber producers seem to be planning for “slow-but-steady,” though ready to adjust to “quickly improving,” all the while expecting even better returns in 2015.