Story by Rich Donnell,
Am I going to wake up one morning and find that the Southern independent lumberman is extinct? Surely he’s already on the EPA endangered species list, or at least the EPA threatened species list.
Do I exaggerate? In reality, probably. It does make me nervous.
What has me thinking about this are some recent developments, some confirmed, some apparently soon to be confirmed.
We’re all aware that Georgia’s Tolleson Lumber and its two sawmills were sold to Ilim Timber of Russia in 2011, and several years before that Canfor purchased New South Companies and its three sawmills in the Carolinas.
Fast-forward to the present, and Interfor has just purchased Keadle Lumber Enterprises of Thomaston, Ga.
And as I write this, there are many rumors swirling around about the possible purchase of other Southern independents. Interestingly, a lot of those rumors surfaced when I was attending the Ligna trade fair in Hannover, Germany in early May. (Do I have to go to Germany to learn what’s going on in the Southern U.S.?)
I would almost bet that as soon as this magazine goes to the printer, one of those rumors will evolve, and thus the story obviously will be too late to appear in this issue. I’m sure you’ll see it in our on-line sites, but that’s not the same to an old print guy like myself.
Speaking of me being old, and of Southern independents, I went back and found a special issue of Timber Processing we did in June 1987 (a mere 26 years ago) on “The Southern Independent,” as the headline on the cover stated. The cover included a drawing of a man who was supposed to be representative of a Southern independent lumberman (the drawing was actually better looking than most Southern independent lumberman I know). Next to the drawing, it read: “Some said this man wouldn’t be in business today. Well he is, and he’s bullish on the future.”
I wrote the main article, which was entitled, “Raised On 2x4s.” I quickly glanced through the article to see some of the independent companies I had referenced. Most are still operating as independents today: Beadles Lumber, H.W. Culp Lumber, Dixon Lumber, Anthony Timberlands, Jordan Lumber, Harrigan Lumber, T. R Miller and Gulf Lumber.
In the article, they painted a bright picture for the future. What nobody mentioned was the possible emergence of Canadian companies coming down and purchasing not only independently owned sawmills but also U.S.-based corporation sawmills, which of course has been happening with some regularity.
If you are a Southern independent, and if you looked over your shoulder and you didn’t see much potential for participation from the next generation in the family business, and/or you simply looked at the state of things for the past six years, from the drastic recession to the recent upward bounce in the economy, and if you have kept your mill or mills in good shape, you might think it is a good time to sell out. More power to you. Nobody would blame you. Or you might be thinking that you should take advantage of this current run, however long it goes on.
That’s your decision. We’re just glad, at least as I write this, that you’re still around.