In the 60 years since Bob Jordan III joined his family’s North Carolina sawmill business, he hasn’t seen anything quite like the Canadian invasion of the South’s lumber industry.
“You didn’t have people coming in from the outside — we never had this before,” Jordan, 82, president of closely held Jordan Lumber & Supply Inc., said about an estimated C$2 billion ($1.62 billion) wave of Canadian investment. “Over 50 percent of the lumber in a certain part of the South is being produced by the Canadian mills.”
Western Canadian lumber producers have good reason to be looking to the southeast corner of the continent. Chased from their home forests by rising costs and a plague of tree-killing beetles, West Fraser Timber Co., Canfor Corp. and Interfor Corp. have been on a buying spree, doubling the number of mills they own in the South since 2009 to about 34.
The Canadians are drawn by the region’s 210 million acres of fast-growing forests and expanding housing markets from Texas to Virginia to Florida, according to Brooks Mendell, president of Forisk Consulting, an Athens, Georgia-based timberland researcher.
Since the late 1990s, the grain-of-rice-sized mountain pine beetle has attacked and killed more than 700 million cubic meters of pine trees in the inland forests of British Columbia, Canada’s top lumber-producing province. That’s equivalent to about 700 million standard telephone poles.