Despite Hurricane Harvey’s creation of hundreds of construction projects, lumber companies in East Texas are still hurting. “I would’ve called you a liar if you would have told me that when Hurricane Harvey hit that it wouldn’t have just blown the mills wide open,” said lumber company owner Matt Evans. “But, it didn’t affect them at all.”
The Texas Workforce Commission employment numbers, for the last year, showed a growth rate of over 11 percent from the mining and lumber industry. Once again, Evans said that East Texans aren’t making up those numbers. “As far as the employment is, it doesn’t take near as many people, in the woods, because the equipment has gotten so big, so fast,” Evans said. “One piece of equipment can do what four, five guys used to could do.” One of the biggest changes in machinery can be seen with the skidder. “In the last twenty years, it’s probably tripled in size,” Evans said. “So, obviously it can carry triple the timber to the loader.”
Numbers for the Deep East Texas Workforce Development Area back up his words, showing an over seven percent decrease, in that industry. “It’s a good thing for guys that can afford it, and, those are few and far between,” Evans said. “You’re talking about half-a-million-dollar machines. I can’t afford it. I’ve got to work on my own stuff. I get third generation hand-me-downs.”
And, those older models don’t take abuse well, adding more costs. “It takes so much abuse,” Evans said. “It’s always breaking down, unless you have the new stuff. And, I think most people pay for the five-thousand-a-month piece of equipment.” Evans emphasized that it’s funding, and not desire, that’s the issue here. “Guys are looking for jobs every day out here, and we can’t afford to pay them,” Evans said.
The TWC employment numbers showed that areas, near the Panhandle, saw a 21-percent growth rate in the natural resources and mining industry, in 2017. That industry employs over 40,000 Texans, compared to the just over 2,000 employed here in Deep East Texas.