CANYONVILLE — Timber operators will need skilled workers and focus on specific products to capitalize on a rebounding but competitive market for wood products, Roseburg Forest Products President and CEO Allyn Ford said Wednesday.
“I think it’s a great time for opportunity,” said Ford, a featured speaker on the first day of a three-day conference of the Oregon Society of American Foresters at Seven Feathers Casino Resort.
“You’ve got to make hay while the sun shines,” he said. “My recommendation for the next three to four years is to go out and make hay.”
The theme of this year’s conference is “Defining the Future of Northwest Forestry.” Looking ahead, Ford said he embraces predictions that housing starts, a key measurement of the demand for wood products, will climb back to pre-recession levels by 2016 and ’17.
After peaking, though, the industry likely will face another drop, he said.
“I don’t think we will go down until then. The question is, ‘What will the down look like?’” he said.
At the peak of the construction boom, housing starts nationally topped 2 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Housing starts gradually declined over the next three years before collapsing in 2009, when there were only 554,000 housing starts.
Historically, the country has had about 1.5 million housing starts a year since the post-World War II baby boom.
Housing starts rebounded to 924,000 in 2013. The Census Bureau projected in March that housing starts will be near 1 million this year. It’s good news for timber companies, carpenters and other housing-related businesses.
“We have recovered some, yes, but we still have a ways to go,” Ford said.
Ford said he expects the timber industry to steadily grow over the next three to four years.
Capitalizing on opportunities will take investing in technology and acquiring workers with the right skills, he said.
Because retooling mills will be expensive, companies will need to find niches, Ford said.
Companies also will need to compete with log exporters, who are taking about 20 percent of the timber harvested in the Pacific Northwest, he said.
“We are plowing new ground. The industry is becoming complex,” Ford said. “We’ve got to be alert of what’s happening.”
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