Despite challenges facing the wood products industry in Oregon, Grady Mulbery remains optimistic for the future.
The president and CEO of Roseburg Forest Products made the comments during the Roseburg Area Chamber of Commerce membership meeting Monday at the Douglas County Fairgrounds.
Sponsored by Douglas Timber Operators, the event drew about 160 people to listen to Mulbery. Matt Hill, executive director for Douglas Timber Operators, attended the meeting along with Lone Rock Timber CEO Toby Luther, who introduced Mulbery on Monday.
Mulbery told the audience it’s good news that the timber industry is building itself back up slowly after the 2008 recession, which he called “the depression of the building materials industry.”
“It’s been pretty strong over the last couple years,” Mulbery said. “As an integrated timber and wood products producer, we see strength virtually in every segment we operate in.”
RFP is in the process of building a new engineered wood products plant in Chester, South Carolina, which Mulbery said will incorporate automated technology. It also recently acquired a medium density fiberboard and molding production facilities in northeastern Ontario, Canada.
Though Mulbery said RFP is a good-sized business with thousands of employees across the U.S., it has become harder and harder to do business in Oregon compared to other places.
China and South American countries, he said, are moving more and more toward automated manufacturing of wood products, and imports from those countries have been growing quickly over the past few years.
Meanwhile, timber operators and wood products manufacturers in Oregon are facing a host of regulations that make it hard to compete, Mulbery said.
Mandatory paid sick leave costs timber companies more money, he said, as the industry employs many workers by the hour. In 2016, companies in Oregon with 10 or more employees were mandated to grant five days of paid sick leave.
He added legislation surrounding toxic air emissions pose a threat for the industry too.
“We comply with all state and federal rules around air emissions and we’re a big believer in clean air and water,” Mulbery said, adding that tighter restrictions on aerial spraying of herbicides would hinder companies like his own, just as it would hinder small farmers.
Mulbery said the price of raw materials in Oregon is extremely high, which is positive for timber operators but adds challenges for wood products manufacturers.
Attracting skilled workers is also a challenge facing the industry.
“The type of talent we need more and more every day is the knowledge worker,” Mulbery said. With sophisticated automated systems, timber companies are finding it difficult to find highly educated workers with the necessary skill sets who want to do the work.
But despite the difficulties, Mulbery said Roseburg Forest Products will continue to operate in Oregon and be a large employer in Roseburg, where it was founded.
“We really look forward to the future and overall we’re optimistic,” Mulbery said. “Economies go up and down, and it’s about making good decisions so we can stay competitive.”