BOUNCING BACK: Douglas County’s Timber Industry Starts to Rebuild

ROSEBURG, Ore. — It witnessed a boom after World War II and a lull in the 1990s, but Douglas County’s timber industry has never seen anything like the Great Recession.

“People call it the Great Recession, but for this industry it was the Great Depression,” said Roseburg Forest Products president Allyn Ford.

Ford’s family started RFP 75 years ago. He wasn’t there when the company launched, but he’s been around long enough to have seen the market highs and lows.

“Over a typical cycle for the past 50 years, it’s been — at most — two years long in what we call the trough,” he said. “This time, we’re five years going on six.”

Tough times make for tough decisions, like layoffs and production cutbacks. But they’re also a chance for a community to see how invested companies like RFP are.

“These family-held companies, they have a tendency to run through thick and thin,” Ford said.

“We believe very much in our community, serving our people here,” said Nordic Veneer owner Art Adams. “We want them to do very well.”

Nordic is also family-owned, passed down from father to son. That family bond creates a family atmosphere in the mill.

“Of the 55 people in the plant, 80 percent have been here 20 to 25 years,” Adams said. “We have some 40-year guys.”

That’s why Adams says he tried to avoid layoffs at all costs. But he can’t do that without a cost. Less demand means less production and fewer hours. Paychecks end up smaller.

“At the end of the day, your name is about what you have: the relationships you build are important. This is a marathon, not a sprint,” Adams said.

Lucky for him — and the rest of the industry — the marathon course is finally leveling out. It’s not as steep as it was even a few months ago.

“The national housing market is slowly healing,” said Worksource regional economist Brian Rooney. “We would expect in the next couple of years to see some more demand for wood products for domestic housing.”

No one expects things to bounce back to pre-housing collapse numbers. But, slowly, the industry will rebuild.

“When this market comes back — and it will come back — we are going to be in a very strong position,” said Ford.

Said Adams: “I like to tell our folks, ‘I think our best days are still ahead of us.’ I really believe that and hopefully as things evolve, that’s going to happen.”

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