After a sharp decline, Douglas County’s timber industry is steadily recovering, Roseburg Forest Products President and CEO Allyn Ford said Monday at a Roseburg Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
The recession was rough on the county’s wood-product companies, forcing many to lay off workers and close mills, he said. In the past year, those companies have started to hire and expand again as housing starts increase and banks become more willing to approve loans, Ford said.
“Most of our county industry has survived in surprisingly good shape. We all have scars, but we survived,” he told a large crowd that came to the Douglas County Fairgrounds to hear his 10th state of the timber industry address.
“We are really in the recovery. I don’t think there is any reason that we won’t sustain that growth.”
Despite the good news, the industry still has challenges, Ford said.
Environmental groups continue to sue to block logging on federal and state forest lands, and gridlock remains on the management of the federal Oregon and California Railroad trust lands, he said.
“That is the limitation of our growth in Douglas County, the state of Oregon,” Ford said. “The process has been so tied down with legal issues, it’s become a nightmare.”
The recession has contracted the timber industry, but that may be good news for the mostly family-owned Douglas County timber companies, he said.
“We have an open field to expand and grow into this economy,” Ford said.
Since many timber companies downsized, they’re now carefully rebuilding their work forces, he said.
“We’re switching from survival to growth,” Ford said. “We are trying to get re-energized and re-networked.”
The global market for timber also looks different that it has in previous years, he said. Europe, whose timber industry is a major competitor with the U.S., is struggling through an economic crisis, Ford said. The Chinese and Middle Eastern economies have slowed down, he said.
“We’re not looking at anything wild and crazy happening overseas,” Ford said.
There is also less competition from the Canadian timber industry, which has been hurt by a pine beetle infestation, he said.
“The threat of a lot of wood coming into the U.S. and flooding our market, there’s questions about that,” Ford said. “The U.S. market is looking pretty good.”
He said he’s especially encouraged by improvements in the housing industry. As the economy recovers, more people will want to buy homes, Ford said.
“There is a lot of suppressed demand out there,” he said. “We have a future. The demand is there and the demand will continue.”
Another area of growth will be the need for apartments, especially for younger adults, who have been saddled with a lot more college debt than their parents, Ford said.
“A lot of our younger people cannot go out and own a house,” he said.
Ford said he’s hopeful that Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, becoming chairman of the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will spell some meaningful reform of federal forest management. It would be especially nice if Wyden helps see through a plan proposed by U.S. Reps. Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield, Greg Walden, R-Hood River, and Kurt Schrader, D-Salem, to increase logging on the O&C lands, he said.
“I think this is our chance in the sun,” Ford said. “It’s going to be a tough battle, but it’s going to have a lot of impact on our industry in Douglas County.”
Wyden has distanced himself from the plan DeFazio, Walden and Schrader proposed more than a year ago.
The Douglas County timber industry should look toward a brighter future and respond accordingly, Ford said.
“We are playing catch-up. More than anything else, we need to change our attitude,” he said. “It’s time to get on with it. We’re in recovery. Let’s go.”
• You can reach reporter Inka Bajandas at 541-957-4202 or email at email@example.com.